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What is Comparative Politics?

By Koren Allen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Comparative politics, also called comparative government, describes a method of scientific study in the political science field. As the name suggests, comparative politics compares two or more countries and attempts to draw conclusions based on those comparisons. Political scientists may compare one or several aspects, such as economic prosperity, level of education and employment. The comparative method is similar to the scientific method in the physical sciences because it seeks to establish empirical relationships between variables.

Social and political sciences differ from the physical sciences in the methods of testing available to them. In the physical sciences, researchers can perform controlled studies in laboratories where the variables of the study can be manipulated. In contrast, social science relies on observation and interpretation of the available social and governmental data; no direct manipulation of variables is possible.

Comparative politics describes the method of testing a hypothesis by setting dependent and independent variables, similar to the scientific method of the physical sciences. By observing correlations, political scientists then attempt to confirm or rule out a cause-and-effect relationship, depending on whether the available data supports or contradicts the hypothesis. Like the physical sciences, the results of one study will often raise new hypotheses to be studied.

The most familiar examples of the comparative method involve comparing different forms of government in different countries, and how effective they are in particular areas of social or economic development. For example, a scientist might want to test the hypothesis "Countries with democratic forms of government have a more highly-educated population than countries run by monarchies." The scientist would compile data on two or more countries, setting up the form of government as the independent variable, and the level of education among the population as the dependent variable. The hypothesis would then be evaluated and confirmed or rejected, based on whether the hard data supports the hypothesis or contradicts it. While this example is extremely simplistic, it illustrates the basic scientific process of the comparative politics method.

Social scientists and philosophers have been using variations of the comparative method of study throughout history. Aristotle compared and contrasted different types of government in his work called The Politics. Alexis de Toqueville also employed comparative political study in his work Democracy in America, which examined the nuances of the United States' government at the time of its conception, and compared it to British and French governments. Other social scientists that have made significant contributions to the field of comparative politics include Anthony Downs, Max Weber, and Giovanni Sartori.

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Discussion Comments
By anon308999 — On Dec 14, 2012

What are some other studies you can conduct that requires qualitative data to show the relationship between two variables?

By BambooForest — On Feb 06, 2011

@ Catapult, I think that the two tie together really well because in so many societies, one helps form the other; even in the United States that was true, though we have the added complication of living in a society that tries to keep the two separate whenever possible. The end result can be very complicated and requiring a lot of knowledge of both politics and religion.

By Catapult — On Feb 05, 2011

Many recent political scientists also find it valuable to study religion, especially if they are interested in comparative politics today. In fact, so many people at my college got double degrees in Political Science and Religion that they jokingly called themselves people majoring in "Po'ligion".

By anon126211 — On Nov 11, 2010

comparative politics has opened a new dimension in the field of comparative analysis. examine.

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