Comparing Political Systems


The course is assessed by one 2,000-word essay counting for 40% of the final mark. 

For what counts towards the word limit, please check the DPE UG Handbook on Keats. Basically, everything counts except the main title at the beginning of the essay, the bibliography at the end and all tables and figures. This means that the rest counts including footnotes and section headings.

For essays that exceed the word limit by up to and including 10% (i.e., 2,200 words) no penalty will be incurred. For essays that exceed the word limit by more, some points will be deducted.

Essay questions and deadline

There are four possible essay questions. Each correspond to one part of the module. You must pick ONE of the following questions as the basis of your essay.

  • Does a good economy lead to democratization? Yes, no, and why? Exemplify with your selected countries.
  • Does the structure of the state (federalism, types of legislature, presidentialism, or coutn system) explain democratic stability? Yes, no, and why? Exemplify with your selected countries.
  • Does globalization affect voting behaviour? Yes, no, and why? Exemplify with your selected countries.
  • Do political parties matter for policy-making? Yes, no, and why? Exemplify with your selected countries.


Because comparative politics is an empirical subfield of political science, your essay needs to be empirical. This means that you need to analyse the way politics works in reality in a few selected countries. When you do so, you need to ‘prove’ your claims either in:

  1. Citing a scientific article or book in which the authors prove your claims after conducting a scientific study 
  2. Reporting data that prove your claim (on what constitutes data, see below)

Yet, it is important to note that you also need mobilise the relevant concepts and theories in order to answer the essay question. In doing so, you need to cite the relevant scientific books and articles. 

Another particularity of the essay in this module is that they require you to engage in a comparative analysis of the selected countries. This means that you will need to apply the comparative method to answer the essay questions, typically to show whether X (example: a bad economy) affects Y (example: democratic backsliding). The principles of the comparative method will be discussed on the lecture on Week 5. 

You can choose countries among all the countries recognized as such by the United Nations (members states + non-member observer states). You have two possibilities for the choice of countries:

  1. You select two countries and do a small-N comparative analysis
  2. You select more than 15 countries and do a large-N comparative analysis. 

The respective (dis)advantages of the small-N and large-N comparison will be also discussed on the lecture on Week 5.

As mentioned above, one way to ‘prove’ a claim about the way politics functions in a given country is to use data. Data are facts or statistics collected for reference or analysis. There are two types of data:

  1. Quantitative data that can be counted (examples: turnout rate at an election, proportion of people that says that they are satisfied with democracy in a country…)
  2. Qualitative data that are not numerical (examples: a tweet of the president, some testimonies of protesters about police’s repression at a rally)

In your essays, you can use either quantitative, qualitative data, or both. Each type can be used in small-N and large-N comparisons. More details about what constitutes qualitative and quantitative data will be given on the lecture on Week 20.


Here are a few tips about what makes a good essay:

  1. The essay is not only about controlling what you have learned in lectures and seminars. It is first and foremost an exercise to make you learn more about a topic and the countries that you selected. This is why it requires you to do some extra reading. The list of ‘further reading’ available on Keats is a first step, but it should not be the only one. We encourage you to check the scientific books and articles published on the topic. In the subfield of comparative politics, there are many relevant scientific articles published in the following journals: American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, British Journal of Political Science, World Politics, and Comparative Political Studies. There are also many relevant scientific books published in the Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. If you are unsure about a journal or book press being scientific or not, please consult your seminar leader or the lecturer. An excellent essay is one in which the student shows that they went beyond the textbook and the literature gathered by the lecturers, and independently searched for more scientific books and articles. 
  • Although the essay is empirical, it is necessary to mobilize the key concepts and theories of comparative politics related to the essay question and cite the relevant literature. An excellent essay is one in which the student critically engages with this literature. A critical analysis does NOT mean that you declare whether they agree or not with the concepts and theories, it means you identify the strengths and weakness of the scientific articles and books on which these concepts and theories rely.
  • Since the essays are empirical, you need report some qualitative or quantitative evidence. Lecturers often use data in their lectures, and they give the reference for you to find them. There are also tons of second-hand data you can find in tables and figures in scientific books and articles. That said, we advise you not to report too many statistics or data because it will be at the expense of the critical engagement with the literature (which is certainly even more crucial). Less is more, usually a couple of evidence does the job very well.
  • Although the essays are empirical, they are not methodological. No extra mark will be given if you use a fancy statistical method like regression analysis for instance.
  • Before writing, read the questions carefully, and decide how you want to answer it. There is more than one way to answer them, so try to be original. Furthermore, because you can choose the countries that you want for your analysis, you have much score for independent research and thinking. Exploit it!
  • A good essay is clear and precise and written academically. There are many guides on how to write academically, and some can be found online. Check them out!


There are several things that we organise to help you write your essays:

  1. On Weeks 20 the lecture turns into a preparation session. In this session, the lecturer gives some tips about what to include in the upcoming essay. You will also be able to ask general questions about the essay at the end of the session. The first preparation lecture on Week 5 is particularly useful because I will discuss what makes a good essay.
  • Also, on Week 20, the seminar turns into an office hour. The seminar leader will answer the specific questions that you have about the upcoming essay (you are encouraged to prepare a plan or a draft in advance).
  • On Keats, we put sample essays from last year (caution: the topic and instructions were different). You are encouraged to have a look at them to see what a good essay looks like.
  • You can always go see your seminar leader or lecturer during their office hours to ask questions. We are there, so do not hesitate to come by.

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