Elections and Democracy

ECTS Credits: 
Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

Elections are central to the political process and to legitimating the office-holders that they produce not only in democracies but, increasingly, in contemporary authoritarian regimes too. The course first investigates why elections acquired this important place in modern political systems and what impact they in fact have. Then we move on to survey all major aspects of how elections are regulated, what normative dilemmas the various rules raise, and what practical effect they have. While the course’s main goal is to assist evidence-based, normatively informed analytical thinking about institutions, it also introduces a wide range of technical knowledge regarding democratic and authoritarian ways of organizing elections, and how the effectiveness of various tools can be undermined in practice by regime opponents. The course also surveys when and why elections have effects that run against their manifest function, i.e. undermine popular sovereignty in democracies, or lead to a defeat of authoritarian governments in non-democratic regimes.

Attached is the preliminary outline of this new course that will run in Winter 2018 (last update: 15 August 2017). Its purpose is to give a sense for what topics the course intends to cover and at what length. Some details may change until the final version of the syllabus will be posted in November 2017.

Learning Outcomes: 
  • Familiarity with theories, concepts, empirical regularities and research strategies regarding rules for elections. By the end of the course, participants should be able to give informed advice to advocacy groups, government agencies, political parties etc. regarding electoral rules, and distinguish likely charlatanry from solid evidence-based knowledge on the topic
  • Ability to propose, elaborate and persuasively argue for specific electoral rules tools in response to real world electoral system debates, with reference to the results of scholarly analyses and relevant normative concerns
  • Reason analytically, apply abstract models to complex empirical situations and engage with different intellectual traditions, subfields, research designs and methodologies in the social sciences
  • Improved ability to design high-quality academic or applied research in a rigorous and consistent manner
  • Ability for effective oral presentation of scholarly thoughts, developing listening and discussion skills with initiative and autonomy in various professional contexts
  • Improved understanding of the potential and limits of statistical analyses, case studies and experimental research especially with respect to the establishment of causality; improved appreciation of the potential of qualitative research and rigorous description

The classes will always require active participation and careful preparation via reading the required materials and occasional online research. The meetings will typically be of the seminar-type, with multiple shorter presentations followed by Q&A and with discussion about the readings. All participants have to bring a short list of two questions or comments (with a one paragraph exposition for each) regarding each assigned reading to class, which will be addressed during the discussion dependent on their substantive merit. At this point we anticipate that about 35% of the final grade will be based on the quality of in-class contributions to the discussions (including the written questions/comments), 20% on individual presentations, and 45% on a max. 4,000-word long term paper. The topic of the term paper has to be closely related to the topics covered in the course and needs to be agreed upon with the instructors by 10 February. Your paper will address in a novel way a theoretically relevant research question about rules regulating elections. It can, for instance, be an original case study of an electoral system feature in terms of the actors’ motivation for its adaptation and/or its (unintended) effects, or a statistical analysis using an appropriate data set (some recommendations are listed below). Regarding plagiarism and attendance, the departmental policies will apply.