POLSC221 Study Guide

Site: Saylor Academy
Course: POLSC221: Introduction to Comparative Politics
Book: POLSC221 Study Guide
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Date: Thursday, May 23, 2024, 4:48 PM

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Study Guide Structure

In this study guide, the sections in each unit (1a., 1b., etc.) are the learning outcomes of that unit. 

Beneath each learning outcome are:

  • questions for you to answer independently;
  • a brief summary of the learning outcome topic; and
  • and resources related to the learning outcome. 

At the end of each unit, there is also a list of suggested vocabulary words.


How to Use this Study Guide

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  2. Test your understanding of the course information by answering questions related to each unit learning outcome and defining and memorizing the vocabulary words at the end of each unit.

By clicking on the gear button on the top right of the screen, you can print the study guide. Then you can make notes, highlight, and underline as you work.

Through reviewing and completing the study guide, you should gain a deeper understanding of each learning outcome in the course and be better prepared for the final exam!

Unit 1: Social Science and Comparative Politics

1a. Describe the scientific method

  • What are natural science and social science?
  • What academic disciplines fall into each category?
  • Why do researchers use the scientific method?
  • How would you explain how the four characteristics of scientific inquiry (replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony) relate to the scientific method?

Scholars who study comparative politics define their approach to their discipline via scientific inquiry, in a systematic and verifiable manner. Otherwise, they run the risk of compiling information that is spurious and useless to other researchers. The scientific method provides the bedrock for all scientific inquiry and consists of four characteristics: replicability, precision, falsifiability, and parsimony. This rigorous approach allows social scientists to learn and obtain inferential knowledge.

To review, see Scientific Method on page five of Social Science Research. The page number is in the upper corner of each page.

1b. Differentiate between scientific laws and theories

  • How would you describe the difference between a scientific law and a scientific theory?
  • What are observed behavior and evidence?

How do scientists who rely on scientific laws and scientific theories differ in their understanding of the world? Researchers consider scientific laws to be observed behaviors, whereas scientific theories require explanations and make predictions based on evidence.

To review, see Scientific Knowledge and Scientific Research, beginning on page two of Social Science Research.

1c. Differentiate between inductive and deductive thinking

  • What are inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning?
  • What is the difference between inductive and deductive thinking or reasoning?
  • How do these two types of thinking differ?
  • How do researchers use them in their research to explain different types of phenomena or arrive at different conclusions?

Engaging in the two thought processes, inductive and deductive reasoning, requires making different types of assumptions that lead to different types of conclusions. We typically engage in deductive, top-down thinking to perform theory testing. We engage in inductive thinking to draw inferences, make conclusions, and generate new knowledge. Inductive reasoning forms the basis of the scientific method.

To review, see Scientific Research, beginning on page three of Social Science Research.


1d. Define explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research

  • What are explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive research?
  • What was the historical progression and difficulties that were inherent to each of these three types of research?

Scholars engage in exploratory research to discover new areas they would like to explore or research further. Once a researcher has identified this new area of inquiry, they are better able to describe and catalog their area of interest through descriptive research. Researchers apply scientific rigor by using explanatory research to explain new phenomena. Going through this systematic, research-based, process of discovery is important to political science, since each type of research applies increasing amounts of scrutiny to the object of study, moving from basic observation to more substantial findings based on sound scholarly research.

To review, see Scientific Research, beginning on page three of Social Science Research.


1e. Differentiate between positivist, anti-positivist, and postpositivist methods

  • How would you explain the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?
  • What are the positivist, anti-positivist, and postpositivist research methods?
  • What are some examples of the types of research studies that would lend themselves to each of these three research methods?
  • What was the historical context behind these three methods?
  • Why did researchers, who followed a certain method, progress to the next level or type of methodology?

The positivist research method requires researchers to use observation to verify their conclusions. This approach typically incorporates research methods that collect quantitative data, such as research surveys and experiments. The anti-positivist research method typically uses a qualitative approach, such as unstructured interviews and participant observation. Finally, as a bedrock of falsifiability, the postpositivist approach determines researchers can only disprove knowledge with any degree of certainty: they cannot prove it.

To review, see History of Scientific Thought, beginning on page seven of Social Science Research.


1f. Differentiate between Mill's Method of Agreement and Direct Method of Difference

  • What are John Stuart Mill's comparative methodologies, method of agreement and direct method of difference?
  • What is the difference between them?

Social scientists apply John Stuart Mill’s two comparative methodologies to research single, isolated observations, or topics of inquiry, and to compare and contrast multiple instances. Mill called these research methodologies: method of agreement and direct method of difference. By using as much relevant data that is available, researchers can establish a level of certainty for their claims and examples: it is better to have more information available than too little.

To review, see Mill's Methods: How We Determine the Causes of Events and Causal Reasoning.


1g. Define comparative politics

  • What is the discipline of comparative politics?
  • How do scientists identify and study the patterns, similarities, and differences to compare political systems?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of comparing multiple political systems?
  • What is selection bias?
  • Why do social scientists try to avoid selection bias? How do they do it?

When comparing different countries or political systems, social science researchers aim to examine the patterns, similarities, or differences they discover or observe with what other researchers have documented as part of the greater framework, i.e. what is established in the field.

In this course, we encourage you to compare and contrast the political culture, political socialization, and political participation of different countries.

Similarities: For example, when comparing different political systems, can you identify similarities in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries or regions? What are those similarities? Where did they originate? How do these similarities manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of the countries or regions? Why did these similarities come about?

Differences: What are the differences in the political culture, political socialization, and political participation among the countries? Where do you think the differences you have pinpointed originated? How do these differences manifest themselves in the political culture and practices of these countries or regions? Why did these differences come about?

Depending on the type of work being conducted, two or more comparisons may be appropriate. Researchers can apply their comparisons to the local, regional, national, or international level.

To review, see Comparative Analysis within Political Science.


1h. Identify and explain various comparative methodologies used to compare various political systems

  • What are three research designs used in comparative politics: case study method, small N analysis (also called the comparative method), and large N statistical analysis?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of these three methods?

Researchers who compare political systems, such as when they review large datasets, must be thorough and cognizant of any bias to avoid making false generalizations and inappropriate assumptions.

To review, see Section 1 of Evaluating Research Methods of Comparative Politics.


Unit 1 Vocabulary

  • Antipositivism
  • Case study method
  • Comparative politics
  • Comparative method
  • Deductive thinking or reasoning
  • Descriptive research
  • Explanatory research
  • Exploratory research
  • Falsifiability
  • Inductive thinking or reasoning
  • Large N statistical analysis
  • Methodology
  • Natural science
  • Parsimony
  • Positivism
  • Postpositivism
  • Precision
  • Qualitative
  • Quantitative
  • Replicability
  • Science
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Scientific law
  • Scientific method
  • Scientific theory
  • Selection bias
  • Small N analysis
  • Social science

Unit 2: The Nation-State

2a. Identify the origins of the modern nation-state system

  • Who were the primary antagonists in the Thirty Years War?
  • How did the Treaty of Westphalia offer Europe a guiding structure in 1648?
  • How did this treaty represent a response to the universalist claims to the Holy Roman Empire?
  • What did the acceptance of this treaty do for religious preference in each nation-state?
  • How did religious influence lead to the establishment of the modern state system?

Certain codified elements have contributed to the creation of new international structures. In the case of the modern state system, political scientists identify contributions originating back in 1648, with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia which called for an end to the Thirty Years War and provided a guiding structure for Europe from that point forward. Each state typically has its own religious preference.

To review, see International Law and the New World Order: Redefining Sovereignty and The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan, Part I.


2b. Define the chief characteristics of a nation-state

  • What are a nation and a nation-state?
  • What are two characteristics required of a state to be a nation-state?
  • Can states be separate from nations?

While states can comprise a geographical area that includes multiple nations, not every nation is a state. For example, we consider the Kurds who live in parts of Turkey, northern Iraq, and northern Syria to be the largest nation without a formal state. Consequently, several nations may exist within a political state, whose borders may have been drawn for political reasons, such as, by an outside colonial power in the case of Iraq and so many other countries. The allegiance inhabitants have to the political state can vary widely and play a dramatic role in the country's internal politics.

To review, see Characteristics and Functions of the State. Review examples of how nations were divided for political reasons after World War I in The Breakup of the Ottoman Empire.


2c. Differentiate between nations and nation-states

  • What is the difference between a nation and a nation-state?
  • Can a nation exist that is not a state?
  • What are some examples of nations that exist in the modern era?

While many people use the terms nation and nation-state interchangeably, the differences between these two concepts can have important political consequences. For example, many nations can exist inside, outside, and across the political borders that outline different nation-states. The people who feel an allegiance to the different nations within can significantly impact internal politics as they vie for political power, especially if the borders include several competing nations that have strong ties that bind the individual members of their population together.

To review, see Characteristics and Functions of the State. Review examples of how nations were divided for political reasons after World War I in The Breakup of the Ottoman Empire.


2d. Define sovereignty and identify and explain trends in sovereignty

  • How would sovereignty be defined in its original context?
  • How does sovereignty apply to a modern context?
  • What does sovereignty mean to individual political entities?
  • How have international organizations changed the way we view sovereignty in the modern state system?

The idea of sovereignty is one of the most important components of the modern state system. It refers to the reciprocal deference governments give to other states to manage their own respective internal affairs: most of us believe every state should have this right. Before this general understanding, governments flagrantly ignored these political boundaries. Our formal recognition of state sovereignty is critical to the modern state system.

To review, see Characteristics and Functions of the State and International Law and the New World Order: Redefining Sovereignty.


2e. Identify characteristics of a strong and weak state

  • What is political power?
  • What do the following terms mean?
    • democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, theocracy, dictatorship, authoritarian, totalitarian
  • How do institutions in different forms of governments demonstrate their political power? For example, how do governments use their political power to affect how citizens perform their day-to-day activities to make their lives easier or more difficult?
  • What are some countries that exhibit these seven forms of government in the modern era?

When we consider the strength or weakness of a state, we usually think about its relative military power. However, in comparative politics, we focus on the state's internal political makeup. Rather than concentrate on military strength or the size of the economy, we examine how the government exercises power over its citizens.

To review, see:


2f. Explain how Hobbes and Weber conceptualize the state

  • What is Thomas Hobbes' concept of the state of nature?
  • How do Hobbes' views about individuality, free will, and the state of nature influence the role of the state?
  • What are Max Weber's three types of legitimate state domination: rational-legal authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority?
  • How do Weber's views about different types of authority relate to the three fundamental functions the state offers its citizens?

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), the English philosopher, focused on the individual, who will act with fear and violence to protect their self-interests in the face of conflict and insecurity. Hobbes believed we are wise to fear and distrust the human state of nature, which is unleashed whenever authority is not enforced.

Consequently, citizens agree to enter into a social contract with their government: they agree to submit to sovereign authority in exchange for protection against this human state of nature, which they know others will unleash against them if given the opportunity. We protect peace and life (the most precious good) by creating a sovereign authority to enforce the moral order.

Max Weber (1864–1920), the German sociologist, identified three types of legitimate state domination: rational-legal authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority. Weber believed the state has three fundamental roles: to create an administrative and legal order, impart binding authority over its citizens, and establish a monopoly of legitimate physical force over its citizens.

To review, see The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan, Part IIAuthority and Legitimate Violence, and Politics as a Vocation.


2g. Differentiate between authoritarian and totalitarian states

  • What is the difference between an authoritarian and totalitarian state?
  • How do state institutions function in each system? Is state control partial or absolute?
  • What freedoms might citizens enjoy in these two forms of government?
  • Why do the citizens who live in authoritarian or totalitarian states follow the rules their leaders impose?
  • What are some examples of authoritarian and totalitarian states in the modern era?

Authoritarian and totalitarian governments present a continuum or sliding scale, whereby government leaders exert varying levels of control over their citizens, businesses, organizations, and state institutions. In an authoritarian state, some freedoms still exist, but in a totalitarian state, government leaders dominate every aspect of society and civil discourse.

To review, see:


Unit 2 Vocabulary

  • 30 Years War
  • Authoritarian state
  • Charismatic authority
  • Democracy
  • Dictatorship
  • Max Weber
  • Modern state system
  • Monarchy
  • Monopoly
  • Nation
  • Nation-state
  • Oligarchy
  • Political power
  • Rational legal authority
  • Religion
  • Social policy
  • Sovereignty
  • State
  • Theocracy
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Totalitarian state
  • Traditional authority
  • Treaty
  • Treaty of Westphalia
  • Universalist

Unit 3: Democratic States and Democratization

3a. Define democracy

  • How would you define suffrage, democracy, republic, majority rule, and parliament?
  • How would you define participatory democracy, constitutional monarchy, and liberalism?
  • What are some of the most notable characteristics of a democracy?
  • What fear did Plato and Alexis de Tocqueville have regarding democracy and the tyranny of the majority?
  • What are checks and balances?
  • What ideas did James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay include in The Federalist Papers to try to prevent a tyranny of the majority from developing in the United States?

As in all forms of government, many variations and types of democracy exist. Nevertheless, key components of democracy endure, such as some type of participation or involvement from their citizens.

James Madison (1731–1836), Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), and John Jay (1745–1829) authored The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 articles published in New York newspapers under the pseudonym Publius to make the case for democracy in the United States and convince the people to ratify the U.S. Constitution. They shared the fear Plato and Alexis de Tocqueville had regarding the tyranny of the majority. They installed certain incentives and institutional checks and balances to prevent any one faction from creating a tyranny in the United States.

To review, see Democracy and Democracy and Majority Rule, Part I.

3b. Differentiate between representative (indirect) and participatory (direct) democracy

  • What are some examples of government institutions that offer direct (participatory), and representative democracy?
  • How do voters participate in democratic governments?
  • How do direct and indirect forms of democracy allow different voices to be heard?

Citizens experience different levels of involvement in their democratic governments. Most democratic governments only invite their citizens to vote or get involved in certain types of decision-making, for reasons of time and expediency. For example, in the United States, voters elect legislators to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to represent them when they make laws. Voters also elect a president to execute the laws. Many democracies around the world have similar parliamentary systems.

To review, see Democracy and Forms of Government.


3c. Identify prominent characteristics of democratic states

  • What are some typical precursors and components of a democratic state?
  • What are some typical ideals for democracy?

Many of us have a general idea of what democracy entails, but no one country has incorporated every element at any one time. For example, in every democratic state, we can all point to past and present examples of practices or inequities that are hardly democratic, such as slavery, restrictions on voting rights for certain demographic groups, injustices based on economic class, and racial discrimination that restricts access to certain necessary goods and services. Every country has a history that includes examples of restrictions on free speech, a free press, and freedom of assembly.

Nevertheless, many of us push our governments to meet the ideals of a democratic state. For example, democratic ideals include free, open, transparent, and competitive elections; freedom of the press; the freedom of religion; the respect for the rule of law; the freedom to assemble and organize; the ability to hold elected and appointed public officials accountable; protections for personal property; protections for minority populations; and respect for human rights.

To review, see Conceptualizing and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World Today and Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN.


3d: Identify trends in democratization

  • What are some components of democratization?
  • What do the scholars in the resources in this unit have to say about the trends toward democratization?
  • What elements in society can discourage the creation of democratic institutions?

The trend toward democratization is not linear. Many states falter on their path toward democracy, backtrack, or simply get stuck in limbo. Creating legitimate democratic institutions can take decades, even centuries, to take root. For example, while several populations rushed to democratize during the recent so-called Arab Spring, democratic transitions have seemed too slow and falter in many areas. Russia, following the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed to be moving toward a more democratic government, but now appears to have settled on a more autocratic system. It is difficult to say whether these reversals present examples of temporary or permanent setbacks. Do you think these trends toward and against democratization are beneficial to the purpose of creating a civil society?

To review, see Conceptualizing and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World TodayDemocracy and Development: The Role of the UN, and The Arab Spring: Prospects for Democracy.


3e. List the six major explanations for democratization

  • What are ten catalysts that have prompted a transition from authoritarian, or dictatorial, to democratic forms of government?
  • Why did each of these catalysts promote democratic government?

The key causes for democratization are difficult to establish, but social scientists have an idea about some of the conditions that may lead to democratization. Do all of the reasons they provide mean democratization will necessarily result? Can you think of any states that may have fulfilled these conditions, but have not democratized?

To review, see Democratization.


3f. Assess if democracy improves economic outcomes

  • Do you see a causal relationship between democratization and economic growth?
  • Do you think a repressive society can foster economic growth for its entire population, not simply support a wealthy governing class?

Many politicians believe democratization will lead to higher levels of economic growth for most members of the population. They argue that a government that promotes an open democratic society, where people are able to meet freely with others to exchange ideas, will improve the economic well-being of their citizens. Economic progress is a benefit frequently touted as a reason for promoting democratic transition. When these promised benefits do not emerge, domestic friction and animosity toward the democratic process can emerge.

To review, see Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN. Vladimir Putin blamed liberal democracy for Russia's economic collapse in the 1990s. He promoted nationalistic fervor and used the economic downturn to justify returning Russia to autocratic rule in Nationalism and Legitimation for Authoritarianism: A Comparison of Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin.


Unit 3 Vocabulary

  • Alexander Hamilton
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Autocracy
  • Checks and balances
  • Civil society
  • Constitutional monarchy
  • Democracy
  • Dictatorship
  • Direct democracy
  • James Madison
  • John Jay
  • Liberalism
  • Majority rule
  • Minimalist standard
  • Monarchy
  • Oligarchy
  • Parliament
  • Participatory democracy
  • Polyarchy
  • Representative democracy
  • Republic
  • Rule of law
  • Suffrage
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Totalitarianism
  • Tyranny of the majority

Unit 4: Comparing Political Structures and Institutions

4a. Identify the role of constitutions in government systems

  • What is a constitution, and what is the rule of law?
  • What do political scientists mean when they describe a constitution as a social contract?
  • Which groups participate in the social contract, and why they are interested in participating?
  • What are some of the philosophical underpinnings of a constitution?

A constitution is a contract created to protect the lives and rights of the governed. This founding document typically outlines the key rights every individual of the community has, as a citizen of the state. The constitution also dictates the rule of law or provides a legal framework citizens can use to defend themselves against state-imposed tyranny or abuses of power.

A constitution is especially important to democratic society because its existence signals political leaders no longer have the right to do whatever they wish; they must follow the rules and guidelines expressed in the constitution just like every other citizen.

To review, see The Constitution and the Structure of Government Power and Constitution Building: A Global Review.


4b. Distinguish between presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary systems

  • What are presidential, semi-presidential, and parliamentary systems?
  • What are some key similarities and differences among these types of representative democracies?
  • What type of political system predominates in Europe?
  • What type of political system exists in the United States?
  • How do the executive and legislative components of government interact in each system?

Democratic governments can exhibit various types of structural and institutional political traditions. While democratic in nature, these different systems can cause subtle differences in internal political dynamics that can make direct comparisons more complicated.

For example, many democratic governments employ different electoral processes for their government officials, which can affect accountability and overall political stability. In the United States, citizens elect their congressional leaders and the president directly. In Germany and the United Kingdom, citizens also elect their legislators to the House of Commons and Bundestag directly, but their elected legislators choose the person who will lead the government (the prime minister in the United Kingdom and chancellor in Germany).

When the prime minister's or chancellor's political party does not have enough legislators to form a majority to support their candidacy, they are forced to form a coalition government, composed of two or more political parties, to get enough votes. This can give minor parties a lot of power to dictate what concessions they want to receive to cooperate as part of the coalition. Meanwhile, a majority of legislators can call for a "vote of no confidence" at any time, such as when they feel the prime minister or chancellor is not being an effective leader (or when the coalition with the minor party falls apart). Consequently, a prime minister and chancellor are more beholden to their legislators, whereas a U.S. president must only face their electorate every four years.

To review, see Types of Democracy.


4c. Distinguish between unitary, federal, and confederal government models

  • How do the unitary, federal, and confederate government models approach governance?
  • Which level of government is the most powerful for each system?
  • In what ways does a unitary system exhibit a top-down power structure?
  • What is the split level of power in a federal system?
  • In what ways does a confederate system exhibit a strong local level of power?
  • How is the balance of power structured in your country?
  • Are any countries considered a confederal system?

Countries create different levels of responsibility and authority, which we call a "balance of power", within their government. For example, in the United States state and local governments have a great deal of decision-making authority or power, compared to the federal level, depending on the issue. Different government systems have different devolutions of power from the federal level down to the local level.

To review, see Sources of Government Power.


4d. Compare and contrast the role of the executive in selected countries

  • What are checks and balances with regard to different branches of government?
  • What is the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches in different types of democratic governments?
  • How does the power of the executive vary in different democratic systems of government?
  • Does the executive have more or less power in a parliamentary or presidential system?

The executive level of power in any governmental structure can vary widely but generally does not approach the levels seen in authoritarian or totalitarian governments. In the United States, the power of the executive is relatively weak, because other organs of power, such as the legislative (Congress) and judicial branches, have the ability to counter executive power with a system of checks and balances.

To review, see The Constitution and the Structure of Government Power.

Checks and Balances


4e. Compare and contrast the role of the judicial branch in selected countries

  • What is the role of the judicial branch in government?
  • What seven basic rights does the U.S. Constitution grant to U.S. citizens when they are accused of committing a crime?
  • What is the difference between a civil and criminal case?
  • Why have many judicial systems around the world adopted the system in the United States?
  • Why did common law, with its origins in Britain, proliferate globally?

During the colonial era, many colonial powers exported their legal traditions to the colonies they ruled, which has played a defining role in the types of systems in existence today. For example, Great Britain spread its judicial common law system to many territories it colonized around the world, including the United States. In this judicial system, which originated with the signing of the Magna Carta in England in 1215, laws are created, built, and enforced, based on past legal cases, legal precedent, and case law.

While the structure of the judicial branch varies widely based on the democratic society it represents, providing a set of codified laws and legal institutions is paramount to providing equality to constituents in the eyes of the law. Many consider that instilling this high level of trust among the populace to be necessary for societal and political participation.

To review, see The Judicial Branch and The Judiciary and Constitution Building.


4f. Compare and contrast the role of the bureaucracy and the policy process in selected countries

  • What is bureaucracy?
  • How does a rules-based bureaucracy function in governance?
  • How do these temporary and permanent aspects of government function and provide everyday services to their community? How do they interact?

In the United States, legislators, who are elected officials, make policy, while members of the state bureaucracy are responsible for executing the laws the legislators pass and the executive orders the president issues. The people who run these bureaucratic offices are hired civil servants, who perform these bureaucratic functions of government in accordance with their job responsibilities. On the other hand, elected officials take office and leave the government according to the election cycle.

In 1946, Max Weber wrote on page 202 of his Essays on Sociology, that German bureaucrats enjoyed tenure for life, which allow them to develop a professional proficiency, so they could perform their administrative tasks with precision and efficiency. Their lifetime appointment gave bureaucrats a sense of independence since they were not subject to the whims of temporary, elected government officials.

To review, see Bureaucracy and The Bureaucracy.


Unit 4 Vocabulary

  • Bicameral
  • Bureaucracy
  • Checks and balances
  • Civil law
  • Common law
  • Confederate system
  • Confederatism
  • Constitution
  • Criminal law
  • Executive
  • Federalism
  • Federal system
  • Judiciary
  • Legislature
  • Parliamentary system
  • Presidential system
  • Representative democracy
  • Rules-based bureaucracy
  • Semi-presidential system
  • Social contract
  • Unicameral
  • Unitarianism
  • Unitary system

Unit 5: Political Behavior

5a. Define political culture, political socialization, and political participation

  • What is the relationship between political culture, political socialization, and political participation?
  • How do these three levels build upon one another?
  • What are five agents of political socialization?
  • What are five different types of democratic participation?
  • What factors that cause people to become more or less involved in politics?

Political culture and political socialization refer to the diverse attitudes and traditions individual citizens have toward their political system. These attitudes will inform the type and level of involvement they will have with their political institutions, the expectations they have for achieving a just and fair system, and how well they are able to hold government officials accountable for their actions.

To review, see Political Culture and Socialization and Participation, Voting, and Social Movements.

5b. Compare and contrast political cultures in selected countries

  • How do attitudes about civic participation, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, age, and gender influence political culture?
  • How has a history of colonialism influenced the political culture in Nigeria?
  • How have local allegiances and feelings about nationalism influenced the ability of political parties to organize in Nigeria?

Our sense of national identity often provides a foundation for our attitude toward politics and how we should be allowed to participate in national government. Compare what you read above about politics in the United States with what Odoemelam and Aisien have to say about political attitudes in Nigeria.

Political parties in Nigeria complain that they have a difficult time mobilizing their citizens to identify with national institutions because they "show greater sentiments, allegiance, and loyalty to their ethnic groups, families, kinsmen or religious affiliations, rather than the state (country)".

Think about the reluctance some members of the European Union have in terms of the acceptance of new and different attitudes they believe could negatively impact their political culture when considering whether to accept Turkey as a part of their political union. Do you believe these beliefs are unfounded or irrational?

Author Ali Rahigh-Aghsan writes that the citizens of Turkey, a country whose primary religion is Islam, have experienced difficulty fitting in with countries that are part of the European Union, which have been steeped in democratic political culture and secular Christian traditions. Note that many people disagree with the causes and remedies for these political differences.

To review, see Participation, Voting, and Social MovementsPolitical Socialization and Nation Building, and Turkey's EU Quest and Political Cleavages under AKP.


5c. Compare and contrast political socialization in selected countries

  • How have authoritarian governments in China, Russia, Egypt, and Cuba used political surveillance to promote feelings of political isolation, fear, and apathy among their citizens?
  • How are citizens using social media and the Internet to transcend these barriers, to create a new political culture?

Political scientist Emily Parker describes how authoritarian governments in China, Russia, Egypt, and Cuba use political surveillance methods among their citizens to promote a psychological barrier that fosters a sense of isolation, fear, and apathy toward their government. Political activists who want to change this form of political socialization are using social media and the Internet to communicate with others and mobilize protest. The sheer number of protesters makes it easier for individuals to overcome their fear of expressing opposition and highlight instances of government injustice. They hope to foster political change.

To review, see Voices from the Internet Underground and Understanding E-Democracy Government-Led Initiatives for Democratic Reform.


5d. Describe and explain patterns of representation and participation in selected countries

  • What is civil society?
  • How can civic participation promote democratic institutions, social movements, and societal change?
  • What are interest groups?
  • What are some examples of the various types of interest groups?
  • What is a non-governmental organization (NGO)?
  • Why is having independent media important to civil society?
  • What elements do civic societies need to promote independent media?
  • What methods do countries use to register, maintain, and update, their database of registered voters?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of these different voter registration methods, such as the practical and security aspects of maintaining a civil registry, ensuring voter turnout, and the risk of voter suppression?

Civil society requires open and robust political discussion and participation by all citizens. Teesta Setalvad, a political activist in India, states that it is extremely difficult to create a civil society that promotes reason, patience, compassion, and justice. It is much easier for politicians to foster revenge, retribution, violence, and hatred. Speaking out against political injustice in favor of civil society often requires great strength and courage.

A key component of participation in democratic government describes the ability individual citizens have to vote freely for a favored political candidate. In most communities, eligible members of the voting public must officially register to vote before they are allowed to participate. However, these processes vary, based on the electoral practices that are part of each country's political system.

To review, see:


5e. Compare and contrast the roles and functions of political parties in selected countries

  • What is a political party?
  • How can party affiliation, issue politics, and a particular political candidate influence how voters vote?
  • What is gerrymandering?
  • How have parties in the United States used gerrymandering to hold onto political power?
  • Why is it difficult for new political candidates to beat a political incumbent?
  • How do low political turnover rates affect voter turnout and political participation?
  • What is proportional representation?
  • What is a coalition government?
  • How do minor parties use coalition governments to their advantage in parliament?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages for civic participation and individual representation in a proportional parliamentary system?

Citizens often join forces with like-minded individuals to affect political change and make sure their views are represented when government decisions are made. In democratic systems, political parties can provide an easy way for constituents to organize, based on their shared political beliefs and specific issues of concern, or to rally behind a preferred political candidate.

However, the strength or weakness of political parties depends on the society and the system itself. Once a political party has become entrenched in the government system, it can prove difficult for a group of concerned citizens, who feel the incumbent no longer represents their interests, to remove them from political office and effect a political turnover.

To review, see How Voters Decide, What's Wrong with Gerrymandering?, and Proportional Representation.


5f. Compare and contrast the role of interest groups in selected countries

  • Which systems allow for greater interest group engagement?
  • What are the typical focuses of interest groups?
  • How could you describe a non-governmental organization (NGO) as an interest group?
  • How is an NGO different from a typical home-grown interest group?
  • How might you describe a social movement as the precursor to a future interest group?

Interest groups have varying levels of political power and decision-making authority within different political systems. Some are able to enjoy great power within their respective area of engagement, while others are not. Nevertheless, they can have an outsized impact on politics, and influence policy in many ways.

To review, see:


Unit 5 Vocabulary

  • Civic duty
  • Civil society
  • Coalition government
  • Collective action
  • Demographics
  • Ethnicity
  • European Union
  • Free-rider problem
  • Independent media
  • Interest group
  • Issue politics
  • Minor party
  • Non-governmental organization (NGO)
  • Party affiliation
  • Party-line voting
  • Pluralism
  • Political candidate
  • Political culture
  • Political incumbent
  • Political participation
  • Political party
  • Political socialization
  • Political surveillance
  • Proportional representation
  • Social movement
  • Taxation
  • Turnover rate
  • Voter registration

Unit 6: Comparing Ideology, Policy, and Decision Making

6a. Identify the basic belief systems of various mainstream ideologies found in contemporary democratic societies and political parties

  • What are the main tenets of conservatism, liberalism, feminism, social democracy, and environmentalism?
  • How do people who hold these political perspectives view the role and place of the individual, as compared to society as a whole?
  • Despite their differences, can you point to any commonalities among these political ideologies?
  • How does social democracy attempt to fuse or combine some of these ideas?

While basic beliefs and political ideologies can manifest themselves in different ways in politics, some key themes and concepts seem to be universal. Here, we explore some of the most common ideologies we see in political systems today.

To review, see Contemporary Mainstream Political Ideologies.


6b. Identify and explain governance and policy-making in selected countries

  • What are policies and policymaking?
  • What is political advocacy?
  • What are the different stakeholders who get involved in healthcare policymaking, such as HIV/AIDS control?
  • Why do policymakers fail to use research-based evidence when making policy decisions?
  • What happens in the five steps of the policy-making process: policy formulation, decision making, policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and agenda-setting?
  • How do the three components of the Iron Triangle (congress, bureaucracy, and interest groups) work together to form policy in the United States?
  • What are the key government bodies in the United States responsible for creating federal government policy pertaining to the federal budget, monetary and fiscal policy, education, and healthcare?
  • How does government structure create policy stability or instability?

The policy-making process is rarely straightforward and subject to influence from various parties who have a vested interest in the outcome, during every stage of development. Different forms of government give competing stakeholders different means and avenues to ensure their voices are heard during policy development, so they are not negatively impacted by decisions. In a democracy, achieving consensus can be a particularly arduous, laborious, and time-consuming undertaking.

Government policy-making involves making decisions about the best course of action, based on clear, relevant, and reliable research-based evidence. However, politicians can be reluctant to rely on evidence they suspect is biased, faulty, or irrelevant.

To review, see:


6c. Identify informal influences on governance and policymaking

  • What are the informal economy and the black market?
  • Why do politicians, business leaders, and individuals resort to the black market and corrupt practices?
  • What are some positive and negative consequences of an informal economy?
  • How does the informal economy reflect a failure of government policymaking?
  • What are some efforts to reduce corruption in the political sphere?

Policymakers do not always employ a rational cost-benefit style analysis when making decisions. Public officials may be more interested in obtaining political power or financial gain, than helping the people they were elected or hired to represent. Meanwhile, small interest groups can have an inordinate amount of power, and influence policymaking to suit their needs rather than the greater good.

Similarly, governments that fail to recognize the needs of their population open the door to an unregulated informal economy or black market. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), a robust informal economy developed when farmers and food sellers from rural areas formed to provide affordable food sources to people living in urban areas. Government non-involvement allowed rural residents to generate their own income and job opportunities, via an unregulated, capitalist-style black market.

To review, see Economic SystemsThe Role of the Informal Economy in Addressing Urban Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Global Corruption Status Report.


Unit 6 Vocabulary

  • Black market
  • Capitalism
  • Conservatism
  • Economy
  • Environmentalism
  • Externality
  • Federal budget
  • Federal Reserve Board
  • Feminism
  • Fiscal policy
  • Inflation
  • Informal economy
  • Interest group
  • Iron triangle
  • Liberalism
  • Monetary policy
  • Money
  • Planned economy
  • Policy
  • Policy evaluation
  • Policymaking
  • Political advocacy
  • Production
  • Research-based evidence
  • Social democracy
  • Social insurance
  • Socialism
  • Stakeholder

Unit 7: Comparative Case Studies

7a. Describe and explain the political economy and development in selected regions and countries

  • How did the countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia develop politically and economically?
  • How have the economic challenges each country faced influenced the political and economic development of each respective country and region?
  • How did their respective political structures impact their economic development? For example, why do you think states in Asia and the Middle East have been more successful in managing economic development, than those in Africa and Latin America?
  • What are some of the broad regional patterns that have promoted economic development?
  • How do these patterns differ among the countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia?

Comparing and contrasting one country's political economy and development with another involves examining the evolution of each nation's respective political system, economic development, international trade, and the internal distribution of its national income and wealth.

To review, see Comparative Case Studies.

7b. Identify and explain political challenges and changing agendas in selected regions and countries

  • How have their past colonial experiences impacted political and economic development in the states that make up Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia?
  • How has an abundance of economically valuable natural resources brought benefits and disadvantages to the states in these regions?
  • How has the persistent robust trade in illegal drugs impacted the politics of the states in these regions?
  • How have economic programs, such as cash transfers and microfinancing, benefited the people who live in the states in these regions?
  • How have international treaties, such as NAFTA, impacted political and economic development in Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and the other states in these regions?

Politicians in many developing states face the challenge of managing past economic and political legacies as they navigate a world that is experiencing rapid change and growth, such as new technological infrastructure, population growth, and economic opportunities. Some countries, such as those in East Asia and the Middle East have experienced rapid economic growth, while others, such as those in Africa and Latin America, continue to struggle with political conflict, violence, and economic inequalities.

To review, see Comparative Case Studies.


Unit 7 Vocabulary

  • Cash transfers
  • Colonialism
  • Foreign direct investment
  • Import substitution industrialization
  • Microfinance
  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)