Comparative politics

Comparative politics is a field in political science characterized either by the use of the comparative method or other empirical methods to explore politics within (as opposed to between) countries. Substantively, this can include questions relating to political institutions, political behavior, conflict, and the causes and consequences of economic development. When applied to specific fields of study, comparative politics may be referred to by other names, such as comparative government (the comparative study of forms of government).


While historically the discipline explored broad questions in political science through between-country comparisons, contemporary comparative political science primarily uses subnational comparisons.[1] The name comparative politics refers to the discipline's historical association with the comparative method, described in detail below. Arend Lijphart argues that comparative politics does not have a substantive focus in itself, but rather a methodological one: it focuses on "the how but does not specify the what of the analysis."[2] Peter Mair and Richard Rose advance a slightly different definition, arguing that comparative politics is defined by a combination of a substantive focus on the study of countries' political systems and a method of identifying and explaining similarities and differences between these countries using common concepts.[3][4]

Sometimes, especially in the United States, the term "comparative politics" is used to refer to "the politics of foreign countries." This usage of the term is disputed.[5][6]


While the name of the subfield suggests one methodological approach (the comparative method), political scientists in comparative politics use the same diversity of social scientific methods as scientists elsewhere in the field, including experiments,[7] comparative historical analysis,[8] case studies,[9] survey methodology, ethnography,[10] and others. Researchers choose a methodological approach in comparative politics driven by two concerns: ontological orientation[11] and the type of question or phenomenon of interest.[12]

(Mill's) Comparative Method

  • Most Similar Systems Design/Mill's Method of Difference: This method consists in comparing very similar cases which only differ in the dependent variable, on the assumption that this would make it easier to find those independent variables which explain the presence/absence of the dependent variable.[13]

Substantive areas of research in comparative politics

By some definitions, comparative politics can be traced back to Greek philosophy, as Plato's Republic and Aristotle's The Politics.

As a modern sub-discipline, comparative politics is constituted by research across a range of substantive areas including, but not limited to the study of:

While many researchers, research regimes, and research institutions are identified according to the above categories or foci, it is not uncommon to claim geographic or country specialization as the differentiating category.

Notable Works in Comparative Politics

In their work, The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba embark on the first major cross-national survey of attitudes to determine the role of political culture in maintaining the stability of democratic regimes.
The Spirit of the Laws
In Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (1966) Moore compares revolutions in countries like England, Russia and Japan (among others). His thesis is that mass-led revolutions dispossess the landed elite and result in Communism, and that revolutions by the elite result in Fascism. It is thus only revolutions by the bourgeoisie that result in democratic governance. For the outlier case of India, practices of the Mogul Empire, British Imperial rule and the Caste System are cited.
The Art of Not Being Governed
Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the French Revolution
The Third Wave and Political Order in Changing Societies
Patterns of Democracy (1999), a comprehensive study of democracies around the world.
Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post Communist Europe
Political Man: The Social Basis of Politics (1960)
Critical citizens (1999)
Making Democracy Work (1993), a major work assessing why some democratic governments work and other fail, based on the study of the Italian regional governments.
In States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China Theda Skocpol compares the major revolutions of France, Russia and China: three basically similar events which took place in three very different contexts. Skopcol's purpose is to find possible similarities which might help explain the phenomenon of political revolution. From this point of view, this work represents a good example of a research conducted according to the Most Different Systems Design.
Parties and party systems

See also


  1. Clark, William; Golder, Matt; Golder, Sona (2019). Foundations of Comparative Politics. Thousand Oaks,CA: CQ Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-5063-6073-7.
  2. Lijphart, Arend (1971). "Comparative politics and the comparative method". American Political Science Review. 65 (3): 682–693. doi:10.2307/1955513. JSTOR 1955513.
  3. Mair, Peter (1996). "Comparative politics: An introduction to comparative.overview". In Goodin, Robert E.; Klingemann, Hans-Dieter (eds.). A New Handbook of Political Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 309–335. ISBN 0-19-829471-9. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  4. Rose, Richard; MacKenzie, W. J. M. (1991). "Comparing forms of comparative analysis". Political Studies. 39 (3): 446–462. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.1991.tb01622.x. Archived from the original on 2012-10-21.
  5. Hopkin, J. [2002 (1995)] "Comparative Methods", in Marsh, D. and G. Stoker (ed.) Theory and Methods in Political Science, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 249–250
  6. van Biezen, Ingrid; Caramani, Daniele (2006). "(Non)comparative politics in Britain". Politics. 26 (1): 29–37. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9256.2006.00248.x. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05.
  7. Gerber, Alan; Green, Donald (2012). Field Experiments: Design, Analysis, and Interpretation. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 978-0393979954.
  8. Mahoney, James; Thelen, Kathleen, eds. (2015). Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis. Cambridge University Press.
  9. Geddes, Barbara (2010). Paradigms and Sand Castles: Theory Building and Research Design in Comparative Politics. Ann Arbor,MI: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-09835-4.
  10. Simmons, Erica; Rush Smith, Nicholas (2017). "Comparison with an Ethnographic Sensibility". PS:Political Science & Politics. 50 (1): 126–130. doi:10.1017/S1049096516002286.
  11. Hall, Peter (2003). "Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Politics". In Mahoney, James; Rueschemeyer, Dietrich (eds.). "Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. New York,NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81610-6.
  12. King, Gary; Keohane, Robert; Verba, Sidney (1994). Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03470-2.
  13. Anckar, Carsten. "On the Applicability of the Most Similar Systems Design and the Most Different Systems Design in Comparative Research." International Journal of Social Research Methodology 11.5 (2008): 389–401. Informaworld. Web. 20 June 2011.
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