Chapter 2: Comparing
Political Systems
By: Alyssa Wright
Ashley Smith
Matthew Jacob
“Without comparisons to
make, the mind does not
know how to proceed.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville
Tocqueville was telling us that
comparison is fundamental to all human
thought. We add that it is the
methodological core of the humanistic
and scientific methods as well. It is the
only way we can fully understand our own
political system. Comparing the past and
present of our nation and comparing our
experience with that of other nations
deepen our understanding of our own
How We Compare
3 Different Ways to Study Politics:
- describe it
- explain it
- predict it (theories)
First stage: Description
If we can't describe a political process or event,
we can't understand or explain it, much less
predict what will happen next.
 Second stage: Explaining
To explain politics you need to identify the
relationships between them.
 Third stage: Theories
Theories are statement about casual
relationships between general classes of events.
That way we can predict what would happen in
the same situation.
Systems: Environment
and Interdependence
3 General Concepts:
1. System
2. Structure
3. Function
A system is an object having moving
parts, interacting with a setting or
an environment. The political system
is a set of institutions and agencies
concerned with formulating and
implementing the collective goals of
a society or of groups within it.
Governments or states are the
policymaking parts of political
Structures and
Structures- specialized agencies such as
parliaments, bureaucracies, administrative
agencies and courts.
Functions- enable the government to
formulate, implement, and enforce its
6 types of political structures:
 Political parties
 Interest groups
 Legislatures
 Executives
 Bureaucracies
 Courts
- These structures are found in
almost all modern political
For example, Britain and China have all six
types of political institutions, however
these institutions are organized differently
in the two countries, and they function in
completely different ways.
Process Functions:
activities necessary for policy to be made and
implemented in any kind of political system.
These include: interest articulation, interest
aggregation, policymaking, and policy
implementation and adjudication.
System Functions:
- Socialization
- Recruitment
- Communication
These determine whether or not the system will be
maintained or changed.
For example, whether policymaking will continue to
be dominated by a single authoritarian party or
military council.
Policy Functions- the substantive impacts
on the society, the economy, and the
These functions include:
- regulation of behavior
- extractions of resources
- distribution of benefits and services
Key Vocabulary
Political socialization- involves families, schools,
communications media, churches, and all the various
political structures that develop, reinforce, and
transform attitudes of political significance in the
Political recruitment- refers to the selection of people for
political activity and government offices.
Political communication- refers to the flow of
information through the society and through the various
structures that make up the political system.
Political regime- used to describe the structuralfunctional policy configuration governments take on at
different times.
An Illustrative Comparison:
Russia in 1985 and 2002
Two revolutionary changes:
1. end of one-party politics dominated by Communist party of the Soviet Union
2. dissolution of Soviet Union as a state into its 15 member republics
-In 1991, Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia, and Gorbachev gave up his
-in 1993, they needed to make a new constitution, and democratic tendencies
competed with authoritarian rule
-new parties were formed and the old party regrouped with the name of the
Communist Party of the Russian Federation
-Parliament now called the Federal Assembly, and plays a much larger role now
- The communist party and state bureaucracy dominated process-level functions,
while the people had influence over socialization, recruitment, and communication
-by 2002 they had some major changes
1. more structures played a role
2. Parliament gained more powers in policymaking
3. citizens freedom of expression expanded
4. Communist party declined in power
5.state bureaucracies moved toward a market economy
6. presidency was dominating institution w/ decision-making
7. parliament didn't like influence from anyone else

Chapter 2: Comparing Political Systems