• Course Introduction

        • Time: 75 hours
        • Free Certificate
        Politics – the distribution, exercise, and consequences of power – exists at multiple levels of our society and in our daily lives. We experience politics in action, for example, during international negotiations, government policy choices, in the workplace, and in our own families. This course focuses on the formal, public sphere of politics and power relations through a systematic study and comparison of types of government and political systems.

        Comparativists (practitioners of comparative politics) seek to identify and understand the similarities and differences among political systems by breaking broad topics such as democracy or freedom down into the factors we find in individual systems. We call this general approach the comparative method, whose goal is to identify the factors and/or categories of analysis to compare and contrast different political phenomena.

        We can use the comparative method to tackle broader, more complicated questions such as: Are certain forms of representative democracy more effective than others? Why are some countries extremely prosperous and others extremely poor? How does authoritarian control drive economic development? Does culture impact quality of governance? After completing this course, you will have the methodological background to understand and explain variations in political behavior and political institutions. You will also have a general understanding of the issues facing political systems in each of the regions covered.

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

        • Unit 1: Social Science and Comparative Politics

          Effective comparative study of political systems is rooted in the scientific method. In this unit, we offer an overview and brief history of scientific inquiry and research methods. We build on these themes as we focus on the comparative method and outline several positivist models of comparison employed by political scientists.

          As you review the material, think about how the comparative scientific study of politics differs from scientific inquiry in the natural world. Should we use the same research methods to study politics, as a scientist studying microbes or global climate change? Can we study the world of comparative politics objectively, as it exists, or try to derive better political models and outcomes?

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 2: The Nation-State

          In the discipline of comparative politics, we explore how and why nations change, how and why governments compare to governments in different parts of the world, and patterns and irregularities among political systems. Before we can begin making these comparisons, we need to understand the basic unit of comparative political study: the nation-state.

          Why do we need the nation-state? How does the concept of sovereignty tie into the history and characteristics of the state? How has the nation-state evolved since its origin in 1648? Is there an optimum form of state rule? And finally, is the modern nation state static or evolving in its form and function?

          In Unit 2, we examine the history and thinking behind the modern nation state through the contributions of the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and Max Weber. We discuss how states developed, challenges to state sovereignty, and compare totalitarian and authoritarian forms of government.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 3: Democratic States and Democratization

          In Unit 3 we focus on the concept of democracy. We explore various attributes that characterize democratic states and differentiate them from authoritarian regimes. We then examine processes of democratization, the breakdown of democracy, and the debate regarding the relationship between democracy and economic development. We conclude the unit by exploring the contemporary case of the Arab Spring.

          Think about how you would respond to these questions. What differentiates democracies from authoritative regimes? What conditions facilitate democratization? Do contemporary trends in the early 21st century support or undermine democratic states? Finally, do you agree with those who argue that democracy improves economic outcomes?

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 6 hours.

        • Unit 4: Comparing Political Structures and Institutions

          A constitution provides a road map for a political system. Although constitutions vary from state to state, they are similar in many ways. Constitutions define political leadership, modes of representation, a legal framework, and the limits of a government's power. A constitution expresses the collective values and supports the security and stability of developing institutions.

          In this unit, we explore how constitutions serve common needs. We consider how their differences reflect the values and interests of diverse constituencies. For example, legislatures may be divided into different types of houses and have different rules for choosing their members, but they typically have the same lawmaking purpose. We we often can trace these similarities and differences to specific reasons that allow us to better understand the culture or society. For example, the way a government is organized often reflects the social stratification of the political community in question.

          We will examine different characteristics of government as factors in our study of comparative politics. We derive these factors from the written constitution, the political leadership, and the bureaucracy that emerged over time. In each case, we discuss political factors with an eye toward comparison. For example, we identify the degree of bureaucratic privatization in each system, how a community's geography influences government interaction, how governments gravitate toward immobilization in their policy-making, and how each of these factors leads to patterns in the political process over time.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 13 hours to complete.

        • Unit 5: Political Behavior

          Our political institutions influence how we behave. In this unit we focus on how non-institutional factors affect political prospects in different societies. For example, cultural factors influence the political process in many ways, and lead to different political values, differing degrees of alienation from local process, and different methods of political mobilization and participation. We define culture as the ideas, values, beliefs, and norms that inform the ways we behave, and how we believe others will judge us for our behavior. In this unit we examine how subcultures and shifts in political activism have influenced government. We conclude with an introduction to different voting processes, a look at interest groups, pressure groups, lobbying, the press, media campaigns, and nongovernmental and quasi-nongovernmental organizations, and an examination of how constituents use the Internet in policy and administrative processes

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 22 hours.

        • Unit 6: Comparing Ideology, Policy, and Decision-Making

          In this unit we explore ideology and decision-making tactics. First, we compare five ideologies that have shaped mainstream political party platforms and governance in contemporary democratic systems: conservatism, liberalism, Christian democracy, social democracy, and environmentalism. We examine frameworks for understanding the policy process before discussing how policymakers obtain feedback and strategically use indecision. We conclude the unit by focusing on informal influences that shape government policy choices.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 10 hours.

        • Unit 7: Comparative Case Studies

          In this unit, we introduce methods of comparative analysis used in political science and international studies. Note that the case studies we will explore are hardly geographically or topically exhaustive. We apply factor analysis and comparative methods to examples from four world regions – Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East – which is the classification of area studies and standard geopolitical organization American political scientists use.

          For example, we divide Asian politics into four regions: East, South, Southeast, and Central Asia. We also divide Africa into two regions: the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and sub-Saharan Africa. We will explore how political elites and policymakers hold distinct views on democratization and modernization, and how these views impact political conflict in these regions.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 16 hours.

        • Study Guide

          This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

        • Course Feedback Survey

          Please take a few minutes to give us feedback about this course. We appreciate your feedback, whether you completed the whole course or even just a few resources. Your feedback will help us make our courses better, and we use your feedback each time we make updates to our courses.

          If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org.

        • Certificate Final Exam

          Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

          To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.

        • Saylor Direct Credit

          Take this exam if you want to earn college credit for this course. This course is eligible for college credit through Saylor Academy's Saylor Direct Credit Program.

          The Saylor Direct Credit Final Exam requires a proctoring fee of $5. To pass this course and earn a Credly Badge and official transcript, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on the Saylor Direct Credit Final Exam. Your grade for this exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again a maximum of 3 times, with a 14-day waiting period between each attempt.

          We are partnering with SmarterProctoring to help make the proctoring fee more affordable. We will be recording you, your screen, and the audio in your room during the exam. This is an automated proctoring service, but no decisions are automated; recordings are only viewed by our staff with the purpose of making sure it is you taking the exam and verifying any questions about exam integrity. We understand that there are challenges with learning at home - we won't invalidate your exam just because your child ran into the room!


          1. Desktop Computer
          2. Chrome (v74+)
          3. Webcam + Microphone
          4. 1mbps+ Internet Connection

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a Credly Badge and can request an official transcript.