Democratic Representation: Elections, Parliaments, Responsiveness

  • Studiepoeng10
  • UndervisingssemesterVår
  • EmnekodeSAMPOL339
  • Talet på semester1
  • SpråkEnglish
  • Ressursar

Studienivå (studiesyklus)




Mål og innhald

Democracy and its defining characteristics have long been a subject of study among social scientists, as democratic systems are seen to bring with them a number of advantages, not least an improvement in overall human wellbeing. In order for a regime to be truly democratic, citizens should be political equals, i.e., they should have equal chances and opportunities to have a say in the decisions that govern them. In the past half-century, established democracies have seen numerous changes relevant to representation and political equality. These include decreasing electoral participation and increasing distrust in political institutions and anti-immigrant (and anti-EU) sentiments. Economic inequality has also increased in many established democracies. The course will therefore deal with two fundamental issues related to the nature and functioning of democracy: political representation and representational inequality. After an introduction presenting the theories about how democratic representation does or should work, the course will specifically focus on three underlying dimensions of this concept: (1) elections, (2) parliamentary behavior and (3) government responsiveness.

Elections (1) are one of the core processes of democracy. With their prospective (the selection of competing alternatives) and retrospective function (the evaluation of incumbent government performance), free and fair elections allow citizens to formulate their preferences. They translate them into support for the parties competing in the political arena and, finally, convert them into governments with exclusive policy-making powers. However, the electoral moment does not finalize the relation between citizens and political parties, which continues within the parliamentary arena (2) where representatives actively connect citizens to the laws and policies that govern them. The parliamentary dimension of the relationship between representatives and citizens is studied through the notion of 'congruence', i.e. the idea that public preferences are matched by those of parliamentary parties. Lastly, the course will finally focus on government responsiveness (3). Traditionally defined as 'substantive' or 'anticipatory' representation, i.e. the correspondence between the actions undertaken by representatives in terms of policy outputs and the needs/wishes of the voters, the concept is analyzed with a focus on how policies or representatives change according to changes in public opinion via different theoretical and methodological approaches.

The course therefore combines the three dimensions - elections, parliaments and responsiveness - into a comprehensive framework of analysis of democratic representation and its limits in terms of political equality. Students will be invited to develop and implement an individual research project either collecting data on their own or employing data from comparative international databases (e.g. ESS, WVS, EES, CSES), or using data from ongoing UiB research projects within the field of study of political representation (PER and NCP). Elaborating their own projects, students will develop key research skills such as research design, data collection, management and analysis.


A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes:


  • Understand the interplay among ideas, political traditions, values, institutions and policies that result in different voting patterns and representation outcomes;
  • Use the key concepts, theories, and methodological approaches to study representation and political inequality as part of their own independent academic work;
  • Understand the impact of various determinants which influence democratic representation;


  • Display the ability to use of primary and secondary sources for the design and the analysis of important research questions related with representation and voting;
  • Display the ability to write a research paper and make oral presentations which demonstrate skills in analyzing ad critically evaluating the theoretical and empirical literature examined;
  • Display transferable skills including: oral skills after participating in class debates and presentations, and written skills by writing a research paper, as well as analytical skills, methodological skills, time management, and work ethics.

General competence

  • Practice critical thinking and enhance skills for an analytical and critical approach in studying and discussing various questions in the field of political representation;
  • Display ability to collect and/or analyze data and present own research both orally and in writing.

Krav til forkunnskapar

Students must have completed a bachelor's degree in political science or an equivalent (subject to approval by the administration of the Department of Comparative Politics).

Tilrådde forkunnskapar


Krav til studierett

The course is oriented towards students who have been accepted into the department's master's program but is open to visiting students upon approval of student request.

Arbeids- og undervisningsformer

  • Lectures
  • Seminar discussions and 'thought questions'
  • Student presentations

Teaching method

  • Theory driven empirically based learning centered on interactive seminars, debates, oral presentations, academic literature, and traditional lectures.
  • Interactive and friendly class environment that stimulates and encourages participation and takes into account different preferences of the students.
  • Multi-faceted class organization approach, which enables students to develop different transferable skills.
  • Stimulating critical thinking and encouraging students to use different literatures and data sources in order to improve and diversify their writing and data analytic skills.
  • Each class will be two hours long and will be divided into two parts. The first part will be based on a lecture as well as a class discussion which will be used to critically assess the readings assigned for that particular week, using the students' 'thought questions' as a basis for discussion. The second part will be used for students' presentations on readings, or organizing class activities.
  • Students will be prepared for the discussion in class by sending 'thought questions' one day before the seminar and by sharing these questions with the other students from the group before each class.

Obligatorisk undervisningsaktivitet

  • Full attendance to no fewer than 75% of the class meetings is required to be allowed to take the exam.
  • Two class presentations: one based on the topic of the session or a case study discussion and the other based on students' own research paper.


The grade is based on the final research paper of maximum 5000 words.


The grading scale used is A to F. Grade A is the highest passing grade in the grading scale, grade F is a fail.




Course is to be evaluated regularly.


Department of Comparative Politics