POLS 675: Comparative Political Institutions and Processes


Fall Semester 2009

Weds 6.30–9.10pm: DuSable 464

Asst. Professor Michael Clark

Office: Zulauf 416

Office Hours: Mon/Thurs 10.00-11.30am or by appointment

Office Phone: (815)-753-7058

E-Mail: mclark12@niu.edu



Course Overview:

The purpose of this graduate-level seminar is to introduce students to some of the major literature and subfields covered by scholars of political institutions and processes, in order to help them prepare for CP comp exams, or simply to satisfy graduate course requirements. In a course such as this it is impossible to do justice to the vast array of quality scholarship that has been generated, and is being continually added to. However, it is hoped that the subject matter and readings covered in this seminar will provide students with enough of a foundation that they feel confident pursuing further reading and research independently. A focus on institutions produces two related areas of discussion: one which concentrates on institutions as a way of shaping, explaining, and predicting political outcomes (the “new institutionalism”), and one which examines major political institutions (executives, legislatures, electoral laws, party systems etc) in order to uncover similarities and differences between them. The seminar will open with an overview of the major institutional approaches to the study of politics – rational choice institutionalism and historical institutionalism - and then move on to cover a number of substantive topics where an institutional approach has either helped generate understanding and new insights, or where the institutions themselves are of particular interest to political scientists for various reasons. Lastly, it is worth noting that this seminar focuses on processes also, and to this end, public opinion and voter behaviour will also be covered.


Course Readings:

The following texts are required and should be available in the University Bookstore or the Village Commons Bookstore. Alternatively, they can be bought from an online vendor such as Amazon if you prefer, where considerable discounts for new/used books can be found.


1. Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy (Yale University Press, 1999)

2. Russell J. Dalton, Citizen Politics (CQ Press, 2008)

3. G. Bingham Powell, Elections As Instruments Of Democracy (Yale University Press, 2000)

4. Pippa Norris, Electoral Engineering (Cambridge University Press, 2004)


Copies of book chapters, pieces from The Economist, and other assigned articles will be made available either by posting them directly to the class’s Blackboard website, placed on e-reserve at the library (a link for which will be added to the class Blackboard website), or passed out in class as handouts.


Course Requirements:

Class attendance/participation – 30%

Class presentations – 20% (discussion of at least 2 assigned readings)

Research paper – 50%


Since this is a graduate level seminar, attendance is always expected, as is participation. If you cannot make class for any reason, please e-mail the professor beforehand. Students are also expected to have completed all reading assignments before class, and be prepared to discuss the week’s readings accordingly. Students should not be attempting to catch up on reading during class, and are advised to make brief outlines of the main points of each piece of reading in order to assist discussion and analysis. Should students encounter issues, arguments, language and so on that they do not understand, they should make a note of these points, and raise them during class so that they can benefit from the insight of their peers. Being prepared to discuss the week’s reading is especially important since a large part of each student’s grade will be based on his or her contribution to the class discussion (30% of total grade).  Each student will also be required to make at least two presentations on assigned pieces of reading from a given week. These will be distributed at random unless students indicate beforehand a desire to present on a given piece of reading. These class presentations will count for 20% of the total grade.


The other major class requirement will be a research paper on a related topic to the class material. Students should discuss their topic with the professor at some point during the semester to ensure their topic is suitable. While students are encouraged to think about this paper early on, do not overlook a research question based upon the last few weeks of reading if this material is of particular interest. The paper should be around 15 pages in length – about 5,000 words – and draw on relevant class readings. No outside research is necessary, though students are welcome to do so if they wish. The paper can be thought of, in large part, as a “relevant” literature review, but must present a balanced argument, and come to some form of conclusion rather than merely summarising various authors’ arguments. Papers that present connections between the readings from different weeks, and can identify aspects where the readings can be viewed as “speaking” to one another, or where commonalities or differences in emphases can be identified, will be looked up favourably. Those papers that simply summarise the authors’ work, with no clear analysis/critique/argumentation will not.  Naturally, papers should start with a clearly presented thesis, and present evidence for and against the thesis. These points will be taken into consideration when grades are awarded, along with style and organization.  Late papers will be penalised. Papers should be simply formatted: double-spaced, 12-point font with standard Word margins, include appropriate citations/footnotes, and a bibliography.  Papers will be due the Friday after the final class meeting though students are free to turn in their paper anytime before this.  Hard copies are preferred, but e-mailed papers will be accepted should the student’s circumstances merit it.


Special Needs:

Please speak to the professor if you have any.



Class Schedule and Assigned Readings (subject to change!!):


August 26th – Introduction/Class Overview (no reading assigned)


September 2nd – The Institutional Approach in Political Science


- Ch. 1 in Electoral Engineering

- Peter Hall and Rosemary Taylor, “Political Science and the Three New Institutionalisms”, Political Studies (1995)

- Kathleen Thelen, “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Politics”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 2 (1999)

- Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff, “Debating the Role of Institutions in Political and Economic Development: Theory, History, and Findings”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 11 (2008)


September 9th – Building on Rational Choice: Collective Action Problems and the Tragedy of the Commons


- Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, Science, Vol. 162, No. 3859 (1968)

- Ostrom, Elinor, and Christopher B. Field, “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges”, Science, Vol. 285, No. 5412

- Elinor Ostrom, “Coping With Tragedies of the Commons”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 2 (1999)


September 16th – The Emergence, and Institutionalisation, of Political Parties


- Ch. 7 in Citizen Politics

- Ch. 5 in Electoral Engineering

- Ch. 6 in Alan Ware’s Political Parties and Party Systems (Oxford University Press, 1996)


September 23rd – Parties and Party Systems    


- Ch. 5 in Patterns of Democracy

- Ch. 5 in Alan Ware’s Political Parties and Party Systems (Oxford University Press, 1996)

- Susan Stokes, “Political Parties and Democracy”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 2 (1999)


September 30th - Electoral Laws & Differing Visions of Democracy


- Ch. 2 in Electoral Engineering

- Ch. 8 in Patterns of Democracy

­- Chs. 1 and 2 in Elections as Instruments of Democracy


October 7th – Electoral Laws, Representation, Consequences


- Chs. 7-9 in Electoral Engingeering

- Chs. 8 and 9 in Elections as Instruments of Democracy

- Kenneth Benoit, “Electoral Laws As Political Consequences: Explaining The Origins and Change of Electoral Institutions”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 10 (2007)

- Scott Morgernstern and Javier Vazquez-D’Elia, “Electoral Laws, Parties, and Party Systems in Latin America”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 10 (2007)

- Suggested: Ch. 8 in Patterns of Democracy


October 14th – Party Competition


- Ch. 11 in Alan Ware’s Political Parties and Party Systems (Oxford University Press, 1996)

- George Rabinowitz and Stuart Elaine MacDonald, “A Directional Theory of Issue Voting”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 83, No. 1 (1989)

- Orit Kedar, “When Moderate Voters Prefer Extreme Parties: Policy Balancing in Parliamentary Elections”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 99, No. 2


October 21st – Public Opinion/Voter Behaviour I


- Chs. 5, 11, and 12 in Citizen Politics

- Christoper J. Anderson, “The Interaction of Structures and Voter Behaviour” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Behaviour, eds. Russell J. Dalton and Hans-Dieter Klingemann (Oxford University Press, 2007)


October 28th - Executives


- Ch. 6 in Patterns of Democracy

- Juan J. Linz, “The Perils of Presidentialism”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1990)

- Francis Fukuyama, Bjorn Dressel, and Boo-Seung Chang, “Facing the Perils of Presidentialism?”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2005)

- Terry M. Moe and William G. Howell, “Unilateral Action and Presidential Power: A Theory


November 4th - Legislatures


- Ch. 11 in Patterns of Democracy

- Eric M. Uslaner, and Thomas Zittel, “Comparative Legislative Behaviour” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions, eds. R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah A. Binder, and Bert A. Rockman (Oxford University Press, 2006)

- Kaare Strom, “Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies”, European Journal of Political Research, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2000)


November 11th – The State


- Bob Jessop, “The State and State-Building”, in The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions, eds. R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah A. Binder, and Bert A. Rockman (Oxford University Press, 2006)

- Roland Axtmann, “The State of the State”, International Political Science Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 (2004)

- Peter Evans, “The Eclipse of the State? Reflections on Stateness in an Era of Globalization”, World Politics, Vol. 50, No. 1 (1997)

- Jessica T. Mathews, “Power Shift”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 1 (1997)


November 18th – Corruption and Fraud


- Fabrice Lehoucq, “Electoral Fraud: Causes, Types, and Consequences”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 6 (2003)

- Christopher J. Anderson and Yuliya V. Tverdova, “Corruption, Political Allegiances, and Attitudes Towards Government in Contemporary Democracies”, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 47, No. 1 (2003)

- Gabriella R. Montinola and Robert Jackman, “Sources of Corruption: A Cross-Country Study”, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 32 (2002)


November 25th – No class. Thanksgiving break begins. Happy holidays!

Reading: None assigned


December 2nd – International Institutions: The European Union


- Richard Higgott, “International Political Institutions”, in The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions, eds. R. A. W. Rhodes, Sarah A. Binder, and Bert A. Rockman (Oxford University Press, 2006)

- Mark Pollack, “The New Institutionalisms and European Integration” in European Integration Theory eds. Antje Wiener and Thomas Diez (Oxford University Press,

- Joseph Jupille and James Caporaso, “Institutionalism and The European Union”, Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 2 (1999)