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Comparative Party Systems




Admissions requirements

There are no prerequisites for this course.


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.
This course aims to present students with a systematic overview of political parties and party systems, in a comparative framework. 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 then center on 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 focus on both advanced democracies and newly democratic countries. Contemporary and topical issues of party politics will be emphasized, such as party politics at the level of the European Union or the rise of populist parties.

Course objectives


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

  • 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 the steps of a research process, from developing a research question to writing a short literature review and conducting a case study;

  • 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.


Once available, timetables will be published in 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.


The assessment for this course includes the following components:

  • Class participation (All weeks), 10%

  • Party system specialists (All weeks), 30%

  • Take-home essay questions (Week 7), 30%

  • Final paper (Week 8), 30%

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

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 will have to acquire 1-2 books and the course instructor will communicate the specific information ahead of the start of the course.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr. Diana Branduse