This semester I had a chance to develop and teach a seminar on electoral systems and party systems. The course has been heavily metrics based, with a strong emphasis on how to calculate a number of metrics used in the study of elections and parties.
So far so good, with most of the students successfully learning how to calculate the effective number of parties and electoral volatility. They were tested on this on the midterm: I was pleased that, given a table of data (for a fictitious country, Oz), they were able to calculate both measures in under an hour (while also working on a short essay question).
For the final exam, I’m upping the ante: Given a table of election results, they’ll have to calculate the seat distribution using a “largest remainder" system (Imperiali) and a "highest average" system (pure Sainte-Laguë). They’ll then have to also decide wether a 7% electoral threshold would alter the seat distribution in any way.
This is a seminar on electoral systems and party systems, and their relationship to “governance” across different democracies. While democracy is now common in many regions of the world (particularly Europe and Latin America), not all democracies have similar institutions. This course focuses on two key institutions—electoral systems and party systems—that are closely interrelated. Electoral systems are the formal rules by which voters choose their representatives. These formal rules affect how voter preferences translate into seats.
Party systems are the constellation of individual political parties in a country. The structure and historical evolution of party systems—as well as the strategies and trajectories of individual parties—are shaped by (along with other factors) the electoral rules. Lastly, these two variables also affect the quality of “governance” (the way political authority is exercised) in different countries. We will explore the relationship between all three during the semester.
Although the course covers a comprehensive range of electoral systems and party systems, we will focus particular attention on a few key countries in the four Croft area concentrations:
Latin America: Brazil, Chile
Europe: Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden
Asia: Japan, South Korea
Each student will also have an opportunity to work throughout the semester on a research portfolio exploring a country of his/her choice (in consultation with the instructor). If we have a larger enrollment, we will add one or more of the following cases: Costa Rica, Poland, Spain, Thailand, and Israel.
If you’re interested in taking a seminar on electoral systems and party systems next semester (Spring 2012) especially designed for students at the Croft Institute for International Studies at the University of Mississippi:
This is a seminar on two interrelated institutions of democratic politics: electoral system and party systems. The first half of the semester explores the different electoral systems used in selected democracies: France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Brazil, and Chile. The second half of the semester explores how party systems vary across countries and how these differences affect country “governance.”
The course will familiarize students with the politics of different democracies around the world. Additionally, students will become familiar with both qualitative and quantitative analytical frameworks, methods, and metrics used to study political institutions. Conscious effort will made to helping students apply these tools to future theses projects.
David M. Farrell. Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction. London: Palgrave, 2011.
Kenneth Janda. Party Systems and Country Governance. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2011.