POL S 332 A: Topics in Comparative Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 4:30pm - 6:20pm
THO 119
Joint Sections: 
JSIS A 302 A
Topic: Coalition Governments in Europe

Syllabus Description:



Course Description:

In most parliamentary systems governments rely on a majority in the parliament. In multi-party systems, where no single party commands a majority of seats, parties need to form coalitions to install a stable government. Coalition governments are a regular feature in Western European states and they come in many different shades. Coalitions are studied extensively because the ability of parties to balance conflict and cooperation tells us a lot about how governments act (and even when they do not act). This course focuses on the institutional design of parliamentary systems and party competition in multi-party systems. We look at different theories and models, that try to explain which coalition forms after an election. We start with formal models and advance to more context-sensitive explanations. Beyond analyzing the crucial process of government formation, we inspect all phases of a coalition lifecycle: campaigns and coalition signals as a precursor to coalition negotiations after an election, coalition governance and management as well as reasons for coalition termination. We discuss the character of parties as fragmented, democratic organizations and how this effects the willingness to enter a government as coalition partner and we look at the logics of coalition strategies in a multi-level-setting or federally organized state. To conclude the course, we turn to selected recent and crucial cases of government formation in Germany, UK, Italy and Austria. These cases allow us to test our theoretical knowledge and to probe for certain national characteristics.


Course Goal:

This course is designed to provide an in-depth examination of parliamentary systems and logics of coalition formation in multi-party systems. Students know about party families, their policy positions and the distances to their competitors in Western Europe. They learn about theoretical perspectives on explaining cooperation of parties and through which instruments competing parties work together in a government coalition.


Assignments and Grading:

  • Class participation means regular and active involvement in class discussions, which is especially important for the success of a seminar like this one (10 % of your grade).


  • In groups of two or three prepare and hold a presentation on either the structure of a Western European party system with Manifesto-Project data (week 2) or one of the selected cases of recent coalition formations (week 8 -10). Presentations on party systems should visualize the current positions of the parties, categorize them along party families give a short overview of their development and talk about the cleavages defining the structure of party competition. Presentations on cases of coalition formation should touch the following points: institutional setting of country, characteristics of party system, topics in elections, election results, formation process, outcome (30 % of your grade)


  • Midterm: Pick a topic for your final research paper. You should do this by identifying a central question relating to an issue in coalition politics in Western Europe today. Start defining your topic, questions, and hypotheses and place them in the context of some of the reading that you have done. References to at least four books and two article sources beyond our assigned reading are essential for the midterm. Address your method and material, that is explain to the reader how you want to proceed about answering the question you have raised, what kind of research methods you intend to apply and what kinds of materials you want to use to solve your puzzle. Write an introduction of about 2 pages addressing these issues. The main body of the outline can be numbered/bulleted, reflecting a table of contents and a line of argument. Do a literature search on your topic and hand in a 5 pages / 1000 words outline with a bibliography that exceeds references from the syllabus by February 7 (pdf, double spaced, font size 12, page numbers, course nr./name/mail-address in page header). You have time to revise it and hand in a final version of the midterm by February 21. This final version of the midterm will account for 20% of your grade.


  • Based on the midterm paper, write your research paper (15 pages / 3000 words, font size 12, double spaced, including footnotes and bibliography), due Friday, March 22, in my mailbox (Thomson or Gowen Hall) or via e-mail. The research paper accounts for 40 % of your grade.


  • Criteria for the assessment of the research paper are:

    • research question (clear, informed, precise)

    • structure (introduction, conceptual part, main empirical/analytical part, conclusion, bibliography)

    • topic focus (sufficiently narrow, connects to course contents)

    • integration of knowledge (application of theories, concepts, approaches from class)

    • depth of discussion (content knowledge and logical argument)

    • cohesiveness (line of argument, connection of chapters, answer to question)

    • spelling & grammar (polished and professional, proper format)

    • sources (relevant and sufficient)

    • citations (data/arguments cited, consistent style)


Please note that late assignments will NOT be accepted and make-up assignments will NOT be given except in cases of documented emergencies or with advance permission of the instructor. In the absence of these provisions late or missing assignments will receive a grad of “0”.


Required Readings:

The required readings are available as PDFs on the course’s website (UW canvas).


Grading Summary:

  • Active participation: 10 %
  • In-class presentations: 30 %
  • Midterm paper: 20 %
  • Term paper:             40 %


Academic Integrity:

Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses. If you have questions regarding your work or what might constitute plagiarism on any of your written assignments, speak to me first. Any work turned in for this class must be original work (i.e. not used for any other class).


Students with Disabilities:

Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Department Requirements: 
Comparative Politics Field
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm