Department of Comparative Politics
Guest speaker

Wouter Veenendaal: Population and Politics: The Impact of Scale

Wouter Veenendaal, associate professor at Leiden University, gave a short lecture on Population and Politics: The Impact of Scale. The presentation builds on Veendenaal’s book (co-authored with John Gerring, professor at the University of Texas at Austin) by the same name.

Silhouette of a hand placing a ballot in a box
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Main content

Some countries are populated by several thousand inhabitants, while India and China have a population of over one billion. Some municipalities are inhabited by only a handful people, while some cities have over ten million inhabitants. The size of political units thus varies widely. Some classical political thinkers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, and Montesquieu, perceived large polities as having bad consequences for governance. Others, such as Madison, perceive larger political units as more advantageous. Meanwhile, in contemporary political science population is studied very little. Often it is only included as a control variable. In the book, population is the centre of the study, and a “one-to-many” approach is adopted wherein the effect of one single variable, namely population, is studied on a wide range of political outcome variables (including cohesion, representatives, representativeness, participation, particularism, contestation, institutionalized succession, professionalism, concentration, government intervention, power, civil conflict, regimes, social inequality, economic development, and public services), both on the national and subnational level. The conclusion is that size matters for almost all the studied outcomes. If a large, or a small political unit is desirable remains, however, in the middle. For some political outcomes a smaller political unit has it benefits, while for other political outcomes a larger political unit is beneficial.


Wouter Veenendaal was invited by the Strengthening Regional Democracy Project to discuss Veenendaal’s ongoing research project Downsize my Democracy on the democratic consequences of decentralisation. The lecture was organised in cooperation with the CORE research group.