Maymester 2000

Daily, 11:00-1:30, General Classroom Building 531


Dr. William M. Downs



This course introduces students to the comparative study of political systems, a branch of political science crucial to our understanding of change and continuity in the post-Cold War world. Our primary aim is to reach a heightened level of sophistication in our knowledge of the issues, concepts, and methods of comparative political analysis. To this end we look closely at key world trends and political problems (e.g., social and economic disparities, transitions to democracy, resurgent nationalism, religious fundamentalism, role of women in politics) and systematically compare system, process, and policy in a cross-section of the world's regimes: advanced industrial democracies (Britain, France, Germany, Japan), communist systems (China), former colonial states groping toward democracy (Nigeria), and states attempting to consolidate immature democracy (Russia and Brazil). Areas targeted for comparison include: political socialization processes, elite recruitment, political party systems and electoral competition, legislative processes and executive power, and policy performance.



The following required text is available for purchase at the university bookstore:

Gabriel A. Almond, G. Bingham Powell, Jr., Kaare Strøm, and Russell J. Dalton, eds. Comparative Politics Today: A World View, 7th edition. New York: Longman, 2000.



Students will be evaluated along four dimensions: attendance/participation, three brief quizzes, one short take-home writing assignment, and an exam.

Attendance/Participation: The Maymester format condenses a normal 15-week course into 15 daily class sessions. Missing one day thus becomes tantamount to missing a full week--i.e., you don't want to do it. Therefore, consistent attendance is expected and students will sign an attendance sheet at each class. Absences for medical reasons will be excused only when accompanied by a written note from the attending physician. Each class session will provide a mixture of lecture and discussion, and all students are encouraged to contribute thoughtful comments and ask pertinent questions. Attendance/participation constitutes 10% of the course grade.

Quizzes: Each Friday (May 19, May 26, June 2) there will be a brief quiz at the beginning of class. These quizzes will simply be a check on your reading and comprehension of the material covered during that particular week. The three quizzes will constitute a combined total of 30% of your grade, and they should be viewed as guides to be used in preparation for the exam.

Writing Assignment. While the brevity of the Maymester does not permit the usual full-length research and writing assignments for this course, you will each write a short (approximately 1000-1250 words) "thought piece" about one of the cases covered in the course. The paper is worth 10% of the course grade. On the second day of class you will be asked to sign up for one of the following topics:

May 24: United Kingdom--How can a country without a written constitution function as a democracy?

May 25: France--One of France's major challenges is immigration. In the domestic arena immigration from eastern Europe and northern Africa has been problematic. Relationships with former colonies, with which profitable trade relationships are maintained, have been seriously strained. How could this best be handled?

May 26: Germany--Germany is a stable, democratic polity and there could be no return to authoritarian government. Agree or disagree?

May 30: Japan--Article 9 of the Japanese constitution states that the Japanese people "forever renounce war as sovereign right of the nation" and adds that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained." Given mounting calls for Japan to contribute to world and regional peace, should Article 9 be changed or repealed?

May 31: Russia--Is Russia a democracy?

June 1: China--The one-child per family policy of the Chinese government is an emotive, but important topic. What are the moral and ethical as well as economic implications of population control programs?

June 2: Brazil--Whose responsibility is the preservation of the Brazilian rain forest?

June 5: Nigeria--Is military rule more efficient and effective than civilian rule in a culturally diverse society and therefore necessary to the maintenance of stability?

Exam: The exam for this course is scheduled for Wednesday, June 7 from 10:15-12:15. The exam is worth 50% of the course grade.


Attendance/Participation 10%

Short Paper 10%

Quizzes 30%

Exam 50%




I. Issues, Concepts, and Approaches in Comparative Political Analysis

May 15 Introduction to Course

    1. Issues in Comparative Politics and a Theoretical Framework for Comparison


II. System, Process, and Policy

    1. Political Culture and Political Socialization

18 Interest Articulation

    1. Interest Aggregation and Political Parties

22 Government and Policymaking

23 Public Policy

III. Country Studies

24 Politics in the United Kingdom


25 Politics in France

26 Politics in Germany

29 Memorial Day--no class

30 Politics in Japan

31 Politics in Russia

June 1 Politics in China (PRC)

2 Politics in Brazil

    1. Politics in Nigeria


7 Exam (10:15-12:15)


Note: This course syllabus provides a general plan for the course; deviations may be necessary.

Note: Students are responsible for the information contained in the University’s Academic Honesty Policy Plagiarism will result in a failing grade and possible disciplinary action.

Note: The last day to drop and receive a "W" is May 24.