Topic 7: Elections

Topic 7: Elections


Carmichael (Bourdeau)


Elections are topical because there will be two in Canada during the course. In some ways, they are like weddings and births: we can fixate on the events of a day rather than the long prelude and important downstream impacts. Elections are inextricably related to electoral systems, political communication, political parties, party systems, constitutions, human rights, voting behaviour, social movements, media, oversight mechanisms, international influences, economic forces, and all the functions of government acting in concert. Given the complex interactions and influences, elections are often studied in comparative perspective.

Learning objectives

  • Assess how cases contribute to cumulative knowledge
  • Demonstrate methods for rapid survey of political phenomena, time series and cross-section
  • Evaluate methods of developing evidence-based policy
  • Assess different interests at work in political outcomes


To be confirmed by instructor after consultation with class coordinators

Activities before class

Consider the following questions for discussion:

  1. What is the impact of different voting systems?
  2. How common is it for electoral systems to change?
  3. What kinds of electoral systems exist, and how are they distributed?
  4. How do party systems and elections influence each other?
  5. Are some combinations of parties and electoral systems more representative than others?
  6. How can we use comparative methods to explore the meaning or impact of elections?
  7. If electoral politics and democratic elections were broken, how would we know? What are our measures of effectiveness for government systems from a citizen’s perspective?
  8. How are elections influenced from outside the boundaries of the state holding an election?

Activities during class

Some suggestions for activities led by class coordinators:

  • Research design exercise: how can knowledge of individual electoral processes be combined to draw conclusions about the consequences of electoral processes?
  • Policy advocacy: develop briefing notes for two or more audience (central agencies, party executives, parliament, corporate executives) highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of different electoral systems for that audience
  • Elections monitoring planning exercise: you are a staff group charged with supporting elections monitoring for the OSCE-ODIHR. What are the practical challenges of different electoral systems? How do you account for monitoring external influences?

Activities after class

  • Review learning objectives.
  • Post questions and notes to Moodle.
  • Suggest exam questions

Additional Resources

Caramani, Ch. 10 (Moodle)
Dickovick and Eastwood, pp. 205-220
Election Resources
Election World, Global Politics
Elections Canada, International Electoral Cooperation
Orvis and Dogus, Ch. 6
Carr, Adam (2019) Psephos: Adam Carr’s Election Archive
International Foundation for Electoral Systems
International IDEA
Inter-Parliamentary Union
International Democratic Union (Support for Centre-Right Parties)
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
OSCE, Elections Observation Handbook
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Election Reports
Political Database of the Americas: constitutions, parties, government, electoral systems