Changing a Comparative Politics Course, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed changing my approach to teaching students how to analyze the arguments contained in journal articles. I also think it is important for students to actually do some discipline-related research rather than just read about it. Previously in this course, my students compared two nation-states using either a most similar systems or most different systems design. That assignment never worked very well because of student confusion about the basic nature of cause and effect. I’ve decided to replace this with a scaffolded process culminating in a team-produced qualitative comparative analysis.

There are three individual assignments that I’m calling Comparison 1, 2, and 3. For Comparison 1, each student chooses two nation-states from a list. That’s it. The list comes from Freedom House’s rankings of citizen freedom in countries around the world; I selected a subset of states for which scores differed between 2000 and 2019 — so that students choose cases where the dependent variable varies over time.

For Comparison 2, students calculate a value for the dependent variable. Here are the instructions for the assignment:

Download Freedom House’s Excel data for “Country and Territory Ratings and Statuses, 1973-2020” at For each of the countries you chose in the Comparison 1 assignment, add its political rights (PR) and civil liberties (CL) scores to get a freedom score for 2000 and 2019. For each country, subtract its 2019 freedom score from its 2000 freedom score. A positive result means the country has become democratic during this period. A negative result means the country has become more authoritarian during this period.

Using the template that you submitted for Comparison 1, enter the Freedom House data for your two cases in the table. For each case’s freedom scores, if subtracting the 2019 score from the 2000 score results in a positive number, write “more democratic” as the value of the dependent variable in the table where indicated. If the number is negative, write “more authoritarian” as the value of the dependent variable in the table. List the data source in the template where indicated. Submit the template as your assignment.

I’ll discuss Comparison 3 in my next post.