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Comparative Political Literacy

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  1. Comparative Political Literacy The Basics You Need to Know for this Course

  2. Case Studies • When your text refers to “case studies” in comparative politics, it is referring to the various countries you will be studying. • Do not simply try to memorize facts about each country in a vacuum! You need to constantly compare everything you learn about one country to the other case studies. • In this course, you will compare: The United States*, Great Britain, China, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico & Iran.

  3. Terms You Need to Know • State: In political science, and internationally, the term “state” actually means “county.” • For a state to exist, the following conditions must be present: • Permanent population • Defined territory • Organized government • Sovereignty

  4. Sovereignty is the Key! • Sovereignty is defined as having the ultimate political authority within one’s own soil. • The other three qualifications of statehood are readily met by less political units like cities or U.S. states. • Sovereignty gives a state the ultimate power to declare war, establish immigration quotas, or coin money.

  5. How Many States Worldwide? • Roughly about 200 states exist globally • Highest number in history • Largely due to the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s • Each state has distinct governmental and political structures


  6. If a State is a County, Then What is a Nation? • Nation: A nation is a cultural, not a political, grouping. • A nation usually shares a common language and religion. • Other shared cultural traits of a nation are: fashion & clothing, cuisine & diet, leisure interests, music or sports.

  7. What is a “Stateless-Nation” • A stateless-nation is any culture that actively desires statehood but lacks it. • Examples: Palestine, Quebec, and the Kurds in the Middle East

  8. What is a Regime? • Regimes collectively refer to the rules that a state sets and follows in exerting its power. • Regimes endure beyond individual governments and leaders; the country’s institutions and practices carry over across time, even though the leaders and particular issues change. • Regimes are compared by using these two categories: democracies & authoritarian systems.

  9. How do Political Scientists Group & Label States? • You might see the terms “First, Second or Third World Counties” in your readings. • These are outdated terms, based on Cold War terminology, but you still need to know their basic definitions.

  10. The First, Second & Third Worlds • First World: Industrial democracies (the “free world”- Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.) • Second World: Industrialized, but not democratic (the communist bloc-the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states like Poland or Czechoslovakia) • Third World: Everything else (You can see why this grouping made very little sense! Argentina and Haiti were in the same category, although they had very little in common.)

  11. What are the Modern Labels? • Liberal Democracies • Communist/ Post-Communist States • The Third World: Newly Industrialized Countries (NIC), Less Developed Countries (LDC), Islamic States and all other “developing countries”

  12. First World= Liberal Democracies • Liberal Democracies is the updated label for the First World. These are countries of the developed world. Will hold most, if not all of the following: • Global influence via restrictive group memberships (UN, NATO and the EU) • High quality of life indicators • Democratic regimes where majority rule is restrained by minority rights. • Liberal tradition of respective individual rights & private property. • Economies largely dependent on the service sector. (lesser sectors: industrial & agricultural)

  13. Second World= Communist/ Post-Communist States • Communist/ Post-Communist States (C/PC states) are making a transition from a command economy (state –planned production/communism) to a market economy (consumer-driven production/capitalism) • Communist political parties still matter in these states, generally in a critical watch dog role. • These states largely found in Eastern Europe in what was the former Soviet Union. Also included are Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam & China.

  14. Third World (Now Broken into Smaller Groupings) • Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) • Less Developed Countries (LDCs) • Islamic States • States in these groupings are collectively known as “developing countries.”

  15. Newly Industrialized Countries • Emerging stars of the developing world • They are exporting finished goods, such as calculators, DVD players, cars, and refrigerators, as opposed to resource commodities such as oil, coffee, sugar & bananas • Political stability, though not necessarily democracy, and have a solid infrastructure base. • Regional influence with a growing service sector economy. • Mexico, India, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Singapore, & Taiwan.

  16. Less Developed Countries • A step below NICs, in terms of economic development • Long term potential for economic & political advancement usually blocked by ethnic or religious cleavages within the state. • Overly dependent on a single commodity or two (such as oil or coffee) • Political instability, poor infrastructure discouraged foreign investment • Nigeria, Columbia & the Philippines

  17. Islamic States • Includes 26 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Asia in which Islam, specifically the Qur’an, serves as the guide for government, through a comprehensive body of law called shari’a. • Combines church & state. • Not homogenous in the interpretation and application of Islam to government, but each attempts to do so anyway. • Iran, Egypt*, Morocco, Jordan & Pakistan

  18. How do States Divide Power? • Unitary System: All power is held at the national level • Federal System: Power is shared between the state and sub-state entities • Confederation: State government holds almost no power, and the sub-state governments wield extensive legislative control. Generally too weak to be workable.

  19. Democracies • Can be direct or indirect • Typically have three major branches: executives, legislatures, and judicial courts. • Some use the Presidential System to organize executive power • Some use the Parliamentary System • Vary in the degree to which they regulate/control the economy, but businesses, corporations & companies generally operate independently from the government.

  20. Presidential Systems • Roles of head of state & head of government are combined. (president) • President is directly elected by voters. • A separation of powers, and a system of checks & balances exists between branches. • Gridlock is a common problem. • Not all presidential systems are alike! • Most presidential systems give much more power to the president than the U.S. system. • U.S. , Mexico & Nigeria • Russian Federation (semi-presidential system has a president & a weaker prime minister)

  21. Parliamentary System • Operates on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty- Legislature makes laws, controls finances, appoints and dismisses prime minister • No separation of powers- prime minister and cabinet are leaders of the majority party in the legislature • Separation in the executive branch between a head of state and a head of government. (As in Great Britain)

  22. Parliamentary Systems • Executive leader is called a Prime Minister or a Premier. • No separate election is held in a parliamentary state to choose an executive. • A general election of the legislature determines which party will win a majority. The majority party’s leader becomes Prime Minister. • Prime Minister is also an elected member of the legislature. Cabinet members will also be elected officials of the same party within the legislature. • Executive & Legislative branches operate in tandem, eliminating gridlock. Because the Prime Minister’s party holds the majority, ALL of their legislative proposals will normally be passed into law. • Party manifestoes (platforms) are more important than individual candidates.

  23. Parliamentary Systems • Party leaders can more easily be changed (party can change leaders from within, as with Margaret Thatcher.) • Elections are not on a set date, but generally take place within 5 years of the previous election. • Prime Minister can call for elections when its good for his party (Based on party popularity, state of the economy, weakness of rival parties, etc.)

  24. How do States Elect Their Legislatures? • The Single Member District Plurality System (SMDP) sometimes called “First Past the Post.” • Proportional Representation (PR) • A combination of both systems

  25. SMDP System • A country is broken down into districts of roughly equal population. • Parties run a single candidate in each district, and the candidate gaining the most votes, (a plurality), represents all of the district politically. • Critics say it is not representative of the electorate as a whole. (party x= 47%, party y= 46% and party z =7%...means that 53% of the district voted against the winning candidate) • Supporters say it promotes majority government & a two party system, as well as more efficient government, with less need for coalitions.

  26. PR System • Country is not broken down into equally populated districts, and individual candidates are not voted on. • Instead, voters merely choose a party with their vote. • Votes are tallied and the percentage of votes won by a party equal the percentage of seats that party receives in the legislature. • Much more representative of the electorate, but leads to many different parties holding seats, and no single majority party. • This necessitates coalition governments, and coalitions are often fragile alliances between parties. Lesser parties can often wield undue influence or break up a coalition.

  27. Economic Systems • States choose one of the three basic variants for an economic model: • Communism • Socialism • Capitalism

  28. More Terms to Know: • Legitimacy: the notion that a government’s rule is just and that it has the right to exist. • Legitimacy is very high in the United States, Britain, and Canada, among others. • Americans might want to oust an official from office, but they do not wish to throw out the Constitution and replace it. • Nigeria has the lowest legitimacy, having had a number of different constitutions in the past 40 years.

  29. Terms to Know: • Efficacy (e-fi-ca-cy): The belief that political action, whether by voting, writing to an elected official, or marching in the streets, matters and may influence policy. • Efficacy is very low in the United States, as evidenced by low voter turnout.

  30. Terms to Know: • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs): Groups not funded by any particular government, but by private donations, mainly from citizens in the wealthy liberal democracies. They do most of their work in the impoverished, developing world, where their services are needed. • NGOs include: Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross, UNICEF, ONE.

  31. Terms to Know: • Democratization: The transformational process from a nondemocratic regime to a procedural democracy to a substantive democracy, either as the first government in a newly independent country, or by replacing an authoritarian system in an older one. • This process may take years, decades, or never be accomplished.

  32. Terms to Know: • Globalization: A process that results in the growing interconnectedness of the world. It can be defined as an increasing interdependence of economies, political systems, and societies on a global scale. • “The integration of capital, technology, and information across national borders, in a way that is creating a single global market and, to some degree, a global village.” –Thomas Friedman