Principles of Comparative Politics

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It is important to note that political studies are a broad and deep field of analysis devoted to understanding the intricate dynamics of politics all around the world. Although a single nation can become a never-ending source for political studies, it is possible to overlook the larger fluctuations and changes without a comparison of political forces and structures between different countries and states. Therefore, comparative politics plays a critical role in filling this gap since it enables a broader and deeper analysis of major political dynamics because the context is expanded with the use of international and nationwide scales. Such an approach can explain many issues and the problem of development, such as democratization since it can clearly and directly see the differential elements through comparison. The given assessment will primarily focus on the topic of comparative politics with an emphasis on its key strengths and uses as well as core problems and limitations.

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Modern comparative political science is one of the most actively developing branches of political knowledge. The popularity of this area is evidenced by the fact that the state structures of the highest order are interested in conducting comparative research, which is supported by serious funding of this branch of knowledge but having sources of different origins. Comparison as a methodological technique for studying politics has proven its worth, functionality, productivity over hundreds of years of its existence (Caramani, 2020). The use of comparative analysis in scientific research made it possible, through the efforts of the researchers of the given field, to single out political systems as an independent object of research, to structure political formations according to various segments and grounds, which were analyzed as traditions, institutions, individuals, and behavior. The historical periods in the development of systems are highlighted, the patterns of their functioning, the reasons for the observed consequences are determined. The ranking of factors is carried out according to the level of influence on the development and degradation of political systems (O’Neil, 2017). This is just the little that can be named from what has been achieved in political science due to comparative analysis.

The key problem of modern states is the problem of power, as it affects the entire society, its economic, social, and spiritual spheres, and, ultimately, the behavior and activities of people. Due to a comparative analysis of political regimes, most political scientists believe that mixed, transitional, hybrid regimes prevail in the modern world (Clark et al., 2017). Comparative political science provides an opportunity to consider the common and distinctive features of such regimes. As a result of the functional analysis of comparison, its multifaceted and significant role in the development of the political theory was revealed. The very process of its formation was initiated by the fact that it became possible to compare oneself and one’s way of life with other lifestyles (O’Neil, 2017). The differentiation of social science, which for a long time remained unified, became possible, in particular, due to the specificity of the comparative method (O’Neil, 2017). Through comparative analysis, the conceptual apparatus of science is being improved, and the laws of political functioning are revealed. The comparison is promising in terms of the integration of the political community through the formation of a metatheory of political science.

The basis for comparisons is not only the development of political theory but also such global phenomena as the synchronization of events in different regions of the world, globalization, and internationalization. Political practice is improved through comparisons. Since comparative analysis is a mega-methodology of research, widely used by representatives of all scientific fields, insofar, it is extremely diverse (Caramani, 2020). The methodological principle of comparative politics inevitably coexists with various principles of structuring objects of comparison, which are extrapolated from natural science (O’Neil, 2017). Therefore, comparative political studies are inevitably an area of the reunification of two research cultures, such as natural science and socialization.

Perhaps one of the most specific features of comparative political studies is associated with the fact that it stood out as an independent direction not only due to the subject matter and the originality of the methodological foundations (O’Neil, 2017). The scientific space of comparative political science is set by the specifics of the object of research, subject-thematic and methodological vectors at the same time, each of which is not specific in isolation (Clark et al., 2017). Only taken in aggregate, they outline the field of research of this branch of scientific knowledge as independently significant.

Despite its interdisciplinary nature, as well as borrowing the foundations of comparison from natural and related social sciences and humanities, a number of specific features are inherent in comparative research of politics. Within the framework of this article, it is possible to focus on only some of the most socially significant of them. The specific object of research, including in the comparative context, suggested the specific nature of the development of political comparative studies (Kesselman et al., 2018). For the analysis, in this case, it turned out to be remarkable that the interest in comparative studies either increases or decreases, like the ebb and flow, which is by no means spontaneous but is determined and stimulated by factors of external and internal origin, of a scientific and political nature (O’Neil, 2017). The idea of the impulsive nature of the development of political comparative studies turned out to be quite productive since it made it possible to identify periods of increased interest in the comparative study of politics, as well as the reasons for this phenomenon at each of the stages.

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Historical Background

Since political comparative studies for a long period of its existence has developed within the framework of single socialization, the differentiation of which by industries became apparent only in the 19th century, it makes sense to take this particular line as a starting point in the development of political comparative studies (Kesselman et al., 2018). It was during this period that politics stood out and formed in a branched and independent sphere of life, which is associated with a number of objects, the most important of which is the spread of wide electoral rights, the formation of political parties as independent political institutions, the formation of new, numerous, politically significant and independent organisms.

One of the significant factors that stimulated the development of this industry in the XIX century and having a scientific nature is the accumulation of a large array of empirical knowledge about politics, requiring theoretical comprehension, that is, a form of “transition from quantity to quality” (Caramani, 2020). Social studies of the XIX century stand out as an independent and extremely significant period in the development of comparative political studies since it was during this period that it accumulated an impressive amount of knowledge, including about politics (Clark et al., 2017). This imperatively dictated the need to bring a variety of empirical material into a system, to generalize, which required a special methodological toolkit, therefore comparative studies of this period acquire special significance.

It is expressed not so much in the appearance of specific comparative studies, although this is already a significant fact, as in that, and this is especially important to emphasize in the context of our research, in the interest in the theoretical foundations of comparisons, expressed, first of all, in the heaps of O. Comte, S. Mill, E. Durkheim, M. Weber (Kesselman et al., 2018). A significant increase in specific empirical information about various societies, which has outgrown national boundaries, could not but stimulate the development of comparative research. Although the growth of scientific information in itself does not allow overcoming the national “autonomy” of scientific research, it nevertheless served as an impetus for comparative research. The raw mass of empirical material is scientifically aggressive (Kesselman et al., 2018). It requires structuring, ordering, and generalization, including through the comparative method, with the help of which it is possible to move from the mass of the concrete to the general.

The growing attention to the comparative method in social science in the 19th century was partly due to such a factor as the significant advances in natural science due to the comparative method (Chilcote, 2019). The development of political comparative studies was significantly influenced by external factors, namely, integration processes, globalization processes occurring in all spheres of public life such as cultural, economic, political, and environmental. A powerful stimulus for comparisons was the colossal differences in the living standards of the population of individual countries and regions. The driving force behind the development of comparative research in a number of countries was the emergence of commercial organizations funding interstate research programs (Kesselman et al., 2018). Scientists in developing countries supplied their enlightened colleagues with unmatched data for analysis and processing in a different context, with the aim of improving management practices in their country by attracting graduate students unencumbered by scientific concepts and research strategies sent out all over the world.

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One of the internal factors that stimulate the development of comparative policy research is the degree of government interest in studying the political practice of other countries in improving their policy by studying other people’s experiences. This is easily determined by the direction and amount of funding for both applied and fundamental comparative research (Caramani, 2020). In turn, this depends on the type of political regime functioning in the country, open, closed, democratic, authoritarian, inclusive, exclusive, and others. This is also determined by the extent to which the government and the administration can and want to effectively use the information and analytical resources of the social sciences in their practice.

Thus, the interest in acquiring knowledge of a comparative nature is not even and constant but impulsive. Since the impulses for the development of political comparative studies are often politically tinged, the results of comparative analysis can be significantly dialogized and politicized, which must be taken into account (Clark et al., 2017). On an empirical level, the outcome of a comparative study may depend on who pays for the study. Therefore, at a theoretical level, comparisons can be carried out in an opportunistic manner.

Primary Uses of Comparative Politics in the Modern Context

Today, comparative studies distinguish three new directions such as institutionalism, developmentalism, and neo-institutionalism. The first approach focuses on the specific mechanisms of the functioning of the political system as such, including presidential or parliamentary systems of power, unitary or federal state structures, political parties and voting, commissions, and elections. It is important to understand that the second approach unites most theories of societal change (Clark et al., 2017). The third is a combination of the first two since the institutional approach forms the basis of comparative political science. Developmentalism in politics and economics focuses on changes in society rather than on management techniques.

Neoinstitutionalism has returned the study of the functioning of the political system and states to the attention of researchers. Considering the political structure, institutionalism sought to cover the entire range of problems, such as order and freedom of choice, the interests of the individual and society, civil rights and obligations, legislative and executive powers, and the electoral system (Clark et al., 2017). It also includes the powers of courts and judges and the advantages of written and unwritten constitutions, the advantages of a unitary state over a federal one, a parliamentary system over a presidential system, the evolution of local governments, procedural rules of conduct in parliament, and political parties. Institutionalism remains the mainstay of comparative political science.

However, institutionalism proved unable to accept the undeniable divergence between institutionalist theory and practice when it came to the establishment of democratic systems in the newly independent states after the first and second world wars. It became clear that psychological, economic, social, and organizational factors should be studied outside the framework of institutional analysis (Clark et al., 2017). The democratic constitutions of some republics have failed to guarantee the functioning of democracy (O’Neil, 2017). That is, institutionalism became inadequate when trying to construct constitutions. Developmentalism, or the new comparative political science with its emphasis on development problems, emerged in the atmosphere of the post-war period.

Comparative studies have been dominated by two alternative development options, such as modernization theory and dependency theory. Modernization theorists represented a group of specialists in comparative political science, and some of them combined case studies with broad analytical work on Comparative Development Studies (Caramani, 2020). The criticism of the theory of modernization and the theory of dependence boiled down to the fact that politics in both theories is interpreted as a reflection of the economy or societal processes (Caramani, 2020). Neo-institutionalism combines legacy institutionalism with development theories.

Neoinstitutionalism analyzes political behavior, including electoral behavior, the dynamics of successes and failures of political parties, their significance for the state, problems of elites, and democratization. The object of comparative research was political parties, their functioning, the creation of blocs, changing the views of people, the role of elites, bureaucracy, and politicians in various political regimes (O’Neil, 2017). While development advocates emphasized the need for economic growth as a condition for democracy, neo-institutionalism studied the problems that arise before the government in connection with the negative consequences of growth, including an environmental adaptation of immigrants.

Neo-institutionalism is susceptible to economic analysis, for it deals with financial and monetary policy, banks, markets, globalization. In addition, it studies changes in the legislative process, shifts in party politics. Compared to institutionalism, neo-institutionalism is more associated with social and political theory, as well as with political economy (Chilcote, 2019). In comparative political science, the search for suitable methods, units of comparison for collecting and processing data, drawing up working hypotheses, and developing new techniques continues (Clark et al., 2017). In any case, the comparative analysis makes political science more susceptible to the diversity of norms, values, institutions, and social structures and the interconnection of various forms of political behavior.

Key Problems of Comparative Politics as a Method of Political Study

In political science, the method of comparative analysis becomes an integral part of it. The range of applications in the study of politics has made comparative analysis central to political science. It is gaining in importance. Its main goals are to develop a system of knowledge about management and politics in general, to assess political experience, institutions, behavior, and processes in terms of causal relationships, and to predict events, trends and consequences (Clark et al., 2017). One of the facets of the problem field of comparative political science, methodological originality, is the extrapolation of scientific knowledge, the essence of which is to borrow cognitive systems from other sciences (O’Neil, 2017). As a result of such borrowing of scientific knowledge, political science, political comparative studies have been enriched with models and such technical terms as a process, system, element, and feedback. Among the controversial problems discussed in comparative studies is the problem of the identity of the content of the main categories (Kesselman et al., 2018). A theoretical concept formulated on the basis of the material of one political community when transferred to another stops working. For example, the classical definition of a political party as a voluntary mass organization may be inadequate when examining political life.

The problem of incompatibility, non-identity of political science categories is due to differences in the philosophical and intellectual traditions of different countries. For example, one can refer to the concepts of authoritarian or democratic systems widely used in the political lexicon. The concept of authoritarianism is interpreted as a social anomaly, as the antipode of democracy (Chilcote, 2019). However, some may argue that it was the authoritarian form of power that made it possible to maintain the territorial integrity of the vast countries (Clark et al., 2017). Due to centralization, they survived the most difficult periods of their history, and this form of power may have ensured the stability of society.

Another problem in comparative political science is the need to conduct research at the junction of political comparative studies proper, world politics, and world relations. Political comparative studies today face new tasks and new requirements. This implies the inclusion of supranational and transnational interactions in the scope of analysis. New participants in world relations are emerging, and these are transnational corporations, non-governmental organizations, including international, socio-political, and other movements, interest groups, and individual individuals (Chilcote, 2019). These non-traditional participants in world politics can be called transnational actors. In addition, non-traditional channels and instruments for transnational interactions are emerging, including new information and communication technologies (Kesselman et al., 2018). Thus, comparative political science is faced with new dimensions of political processes, new parameters of research.

In general, in comparative political science as a discipline, there is a growing tendency towards isolation into more or less self-sufficient groups that are weakly in contact with each other. This is partly the result of growing specialization, but at the same time, it is also the result of increasing professionalism (Kesselman et al., 2018). The development of comparative political science has led not only to the isolation of regional specialists from each other, but also within one region there is a tendency towards an increase in the self-sufficiency of research areas, each of which creates its own narrow network of connections and its own set of scientific journals, and all this indicates an increase fragmentation (Chilcote, 2019). Also, methodological discussions in comparative political science revolve around the advantages of comparisons of a small number of cases. A number of researchers emphasize the advantages of detailed, in-depth analysis of a small number of countries.

It is necessary to mention the problems of a particular nature that confront comparative political science. The first is whether states are still a significant unit of research. The absolute significance of a country as a unit of analysis is questioned even without regard to the international context (Clark et al., 2017). Countries change, so one needs to keep in mind temporal differences, and if political institutions matter, how can one compare the countries in which these very institutions are changing. Increasingly, researchers are forced to ditch the country unit of analysis and isolate specific subclasses of variables (Wiarda, 2018). For example, one can study electoral systems and the political consequences of their operation rather than countries as such. This strategy is gaining increasing recognition, and it assumes the possibility of experimenting with alternative units of analysis and creates conditions for taking into account temporal differences.

Another problem in comparative political science is related to the reliability of the measurement tools and indicators used to translate the conclusions drawn from the example of individual states into the language of comparable operational categories (Clark et al., 2017). There are many examples where absolute status was given to potentially erroneous or arbitrary indicators. The disadvantage of comparative political science is that the analysis of the relationship of variables is paid more attention than the quality and reliability of these variables themselves.

It is the lack of reliable, comparable data that leads to the absolutization of those indicators that are available. The current stage in the development of comparative political science is characterized by the collaboration of scholars with an interest in specific cases and contexts. For comparative studies, it is essential to limit the scope on which the analysis will focus clearly (Chilcote, 2019). Exploring the state apparatus, trade unions, women’s suffrage, the adherents of comparative politics leave out of the field of contextual research differences between countries. The context is often embedded in the subject of research and therefore requires special study.

One of the pressing problems of comparative studies is the definition of parameters that lend themselves to comparison with each other. Political systems in their integrity, their forms, types, and varieties are used as objects of comparative analysis. Political institutions, leadership institutions, legislative bodies, parties, electoral systems, mechanisms of political socialization, and culture are taken as the object of comparison (Wiarda, 2018). Also, the cardinal questions of comparative political science include: what are the differences between the existing types of political systems in relation to their formative function, how are different types established, and how are they strengthened (Wiarda, 2018). It is generally accepted that the best system is a democracy, so most comparative political research focuses on the study of democracy, such as how to establish, maintain, adapt and improve, and counter the threats to its existence.

Discussion and Implications

The predictive value of comparative research allows one to anticipate the results of political reform. Revealing the general and special in the phenomena under study gives researchers an understanding of the possibilities and limits of political innovations. At the same time, in any comparative study, a number of problems arise. The problem of comparability means that one has to compare countries that differ in some way. Therefore, either the maximum similarity strategy or the maximum difference strategy is applied (Wiarda, 2018). The solution to this problem is that phenomena can be compared with each other if there is at least one common feature. The problem of many variables and cases is associated with the fact that there are always many factors influencing the object under study.

However, cases of identifying relationships between variables are not enough to establish certain dependencies. This problem is solved by including countries from different historical periods in the political science discourse, adding new countries, reducing the number of variables by focusing on the most important factors (Wiarda, 2018). The equivalence problem lies in the existence of different policy contexts, which lead either to different understandings of the same phenomena or to the fact that the same behavior is understood differently in different countries. This requires a thorough description of the concepts, the formation of a system of indicators by means of which these concepts are operationalized (Wiarda, 2018). A possible solution would be to focus the attention of researchers on a small number of countries, which makes it possible to take into account all aspects of the concepts used.

The problem of biased selection is associated with the subjective choice by the researcher of those countries that fall under the already formed views of the researcher. This choice can be influenced by other unimportant considerations, which will naturally lead to false results. The resolution of this situation may be associated with the choice of such a dependent variable, different indicators of which allow grouping and selection of countries (Wiarda, 2018). A clear formation of criteria is determined by the level of methodological development of the theory. It is important to understand that it is possible to compare any cases when events in one country are not influenced by events in another country.

The difficulties that arise can be solved by selecting clear signs of the influence of one country on another, after which the latter should be excluded from the analysis. It is possible to smooth the essence of the problem by analyzing the influence of political, economic, and other world processes on modern states. The problem of value neutrality is associated with the value preferences of researchers since there is no absolute worldview independence. However, the pursuit of scientific objectivity and realism avoids ideological one-sidedness and bias (Caramani, 2020). The choice of one type of comparison or another depends on resolving the dilemma between the level of abstraction and the range of countries selected. The more countries are included in the study, the higher the level of abstraction (Caramani, 2020). On the contrary, if the emphasis is on one or several countries, then the level of abstraction is lower. For example, comparing multiple countries allows concepts such as presidential, parliamentary, and semi-presidential systems to be used.

Modern comparative political science uses an interdisciplinary approach as a generally recognized and necessary element for the effectiveness of the study of a scientific problem. Ultimately, any problem is not only purely political, economic, or cultural, but a manifestation of interdependencies that cover society as a whole. Due to the comparative method, one can understand the world of politics, explain it with the help of concepts and theories, and make the most daring assumptions (Caramani, 2020). Also to confirm or refute hypotheses, to assess what is happening in their own country and abroad, to better understand the content of political institutions and processes in different countries. The comparative approach makes it possible to adequately use the positive foreign experience, warn against mistakes in politics and foresee the future.


In conclusion, comparative research today is an objective need, a necessary and living reality in political science. Comparative analysis allows stakeholders to understand the political practice of different countries, to carry out a political forecast, helps to identify valuable experience, makes it possible to take into account the negative aspects, the ineffectiveness of certain political decisions. Comparative research allows political scientists to go beyond the boundaries of a particular country, to make broader scientific generalizations. They provide an opportunity to test hypotheses on a broader material and allow one to exchange experience with representatives of other countries. Comparative political research is a means, and the manifestation of international cooperation in political science contributes to the formation of a global consensus and is a powerful universal tool that enhances the ability to understand the political processes of other countries and evaluate their own axioms.


Caramani, D. (2020). Comparative politics. Oxford University Press.

Chilcote, R. H. (2019). Theories of comparative politics: The search for a paradigm reconsidered. Routledge.

Clark, W. R., Golder, M., & Golder, S. N. (2017). Principles of comparative politics. CQ Press.

Kesselman, M., Krieger, J., & Joseph, W. A. (2018). Introduction to comparative politics: Political challenges and changing agendas. Cengage Learning.

O’Neil, P. H. (2017). Essentials of comparative politics. W. W. Norton & Company.

Wiarda, H. J. (2018). New directions in comparative politics. Routledge.

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