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Comparative Party Systems


Admission requirements



Understanding the functioning of democratic and representative politics requires knowledge of political parties and party systems. Parties represent the main vehicles for the aggregation of societal interests and they remain at the core of the political process, from elections to government formation and the generation of policy. Parties structure political competition among voters, party activists, and party elites and they are consequential for the political interactions within the executive-legislative arena and beyond.

Political parties everywhere are also currently undergoing important changes. Party systems are now often characterized in terms of the decline of political parties, the rise of populism and the entrenchment of political polarization. This happens against the background of many societal changes, including the rise of social media or rising distrust among citizens in the information provided by certain media sources or political parties.

In order to engage with all these topics, this course aims to present students with a systematic overview of political parties and party systems. This will be done in a comparative framework and the course will emphasize the contemporary changes in how parties work. The first weeks of the course will cover important questions related to the origins and organization of political parties, party types and ideological labels. The class will also discuss elements of party systems – the dimensions along which they differ and the factors driving party system change. Throughout the class, the focus of the material will cover all stages of the political process at which parties operate, including the electoral and government domains. A major component of the course will also link distinct institutional features with party systems characteristics. For example, we will consider at length the impact of electoral rules on the number of political parties in a given polity.

The theoretical material will also be empirically grounded, with a broad focus on both advanced democracies and newly democratic countries.

Course Objectives


  • Be able to critically engage with scholarly arguments and to construct own arguments in response, both in writing and verbally;

  • Be able to connect the theoretical ideas and arguments in scholarly works with the ways in which political parties operate as organizations in practice;

  • Develop the skill of synthesizing information across different areas of the study of political parties and critically assessing the arguments and debates present in this synthesis;

  • Practice academic writing for both academic and non-academic audiences.


  • Describe the mechanisms that make political parties vital for democratic politics, and explain the various roles they serve in the democratic process;

  • Identify the most important components of parties as organizations and understand the theoretical foundations and dynamics of both inter-party and intra-party politics;

  • Identify and assess the major dimensions along which party systems differ, both theoretically and in a comparative perspective;

  • Be able to describe the connections between a broad set of institutional rules and party system features and be able to critically apply this knowledge to specific cases.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Every session will be structured in a seminar format. Sessions will usually start with short presentations by myself, which will provide students with a synopsis of relevant aspects of the topic, with some extensions to the readings as well as with key questions emerging from the material. Group exercises and plenary discussions will then represent the core of the remaining class time. Interactive and pre-designed class assignments (some of them involving the country experts) will be provided, with the goal of engaging the students with the theoretical concepts from a different angle. Overall, the goal is a class atmosphere that facilitates discussion and debate of the main issues, as well as using small group activities to engage all participants.

Assessment Method

The assessment for this course includes the following components:

Participation - 10%
Party system specialists assignments - 35%
Movie review & reflection - 20%
Final project - 35%

Reading list

The reading material for the course consists primarily of academic literature (peer-reviewed articles and book chapters). Most of this literature will be accessible through the Leiden University library catalogue.

Additionally, students might have to acquire 1 book and the course instructor will communicate the specific information ahead of the start of the course.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Diana Branduse