ocraciessacrifices too much depth of detail in its pursuitof breadth of comparison’. Discuss Political science focuses onthe analysis of how political decisions are made and implemented. ‘Comparativepolitics, as a field of study, provides us with a ready array of conceptual andanalytical tools that we can use to address and answer a wide range ofquestions about the social world.’ (Lim, 2010). Political scientists aim tohave a better understanding of how political institutions and systems function,how problems have occurred and how other problems may come about in the future.However, there is much debate on what method should be used to achieve this.The quantitative method (large-N analysis) uses mass data from statistics andinquiries, to establish trends and patterns. The qualitative method usessingular case studies to control variables and provide in-depth analysis.
Small-N analysis binds these two methods together, by comparing asmall-handpicked selection of case studies. Many researchers champion thelarge-N analysis, whilst others argue that this sacrifices depth and thereforeproduces unreliable data. Due to the nature of comparative politics, althoughdepth is sacrificed for breadth in many cases, it is necessary to drawcomparisons and make assumptions about various democracies. This essay will explorelarge-N and small-N comparisons, along with individual case studies, comparing individualresearch reports, all using different methods, to then assess their strengthsand weaknesses. Comparativepolitics relies on breadth to generate variables and create typologies. The aimof comparative research is to formulate rules and to apply them to similarcases. Therefore, exploring multiple cases in a breadth study is imperative togeneralise and fulfill the requirements of the hypothesis.
Hypotheses are keyin comparative politics, especially when considering the interaction ofdifferent variables. Consequently, it is imperative that various results fromdifferent studies are considered. Scientists must study, from alternativeperspectives, political systems, which should formulate and test similarhypotheses. Wieviroka (1992:163) argues that to avoid starting again fromscratch, earlier findings have to be borne in mind. Therefore, when conductinga study, there must be a basic knowledge of political systems as most politicalscientists usually adopt the typical comparative politics methods; the methodof difference and the method of agreement. These make sure that variablesrepresenting the differences and similarities can be identified to give thestudy good foundations. For example, there are broad consensuses overapproaches used in comparative politics such as institutionalism, pluralism,corporatism, behaviourism, cultural perspectives and policy analyses. Thisemphasises that there is a need to integrate findings of various studies togain a better understanding of how institutions influence the individual’schoice.
Various approaches have aided comparative politics in its ability tocreate a complex picture of political systems and the factors that contributeto the structuring of the state. These breadth analyses then provide furtherfoundations for typologies and classifications. For example, Amorim Neto &Cox’s “Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties”conducts a large-N study to analyse if there is a correlation (and if so, howfar it goes) between the different measures of electoral system permissiveness,the number of effective parties and ethnic fragmentation. The data collectedwas from 54 elections around the world, including both presidential andparliamentary elections. From this, Neto and Cox were able to deduce that theeffective number of parties are dependent on the diversity of the state and thetypes of electoral systems.
The benefit therefore of conducting a large-Nanalysis is that statistical controls can be used. Statistical control(SC) refers to the ‘technique of separating out the effect of one particularindependent variable from the effects of the remaining variables on thedependant variable in a multivariate analysis’ (Gujarati, 2003). Using SC canaid political scientists in ruling out rival explanations for why outcomes areproduced. Within this, it is easier to identify ‘outliers’ and then makegeneralisations as their theory is tested over a larger sample and in turnbecomes much more representative. One of the main problems with this type ofstudy is that it is often expensive and time consuming, as Collier (1993) notesthat there is a problem with “collecting adequate information in a sufficient amount of time”. However,this is a necessity to gather evidence and draw comparisons, which is whatcomparative politics is founded upon. However, case studies canprove to be valuable for scientists as they provide in depth analysis, whichtakes into consideration multiple variables. This broaches the issue that oftenarises from breadth studies that many people have different opinions.
Forexample, the question of ‘What is Democracy?’ is extremely controversial, asmany have different opinions of what it actually entails. This is oftencontentious as different states carry different political cultures. This is aproblem often exacerbated by the fact many countries have different politicalcultures.
However, quantitative study is often guided on the basis of generallyacknowledged and accepted mass data. Dogan (1994) argues that a false sense ofsecurity often arises with mass data and therefore this prevents researchersfrom assessing the ‘validity of quantitative data’. Especially as someworldwide studies that come from specific sources (e.g. the World ValuesSurvey) use statistics from specific institutions such as the United Nations,World Bank and the European Union. These sources are not always precise andtherefore support Dogan’s claim. For example, political participation inIslamic countries is very unalike the patterns we see in the Western world.
Norris and Inglehart (2004) link this with beliefs about how gender rolesshould be carried out. Researchers often do not have the resources to conductall of their own studies, which allow them to control variables, and even ifthey did so, by the time they had conducted the studies, the economic andsocial realities may have changed. Here, case studies provide valuable, as theyare able to construct hypotheses, contribute to theory building, and producein-depth analysis of outliers that are found through large-N studies (Landman, 2000).The benefits of a singular case study is portrayed in Robert Putnam’s MakingDemocracy Work whereby he analysed 20 different regions throughout Italyacross 20 years of study. He studied the impact that institutional reform hadon institutional performance.
When he came across discrepancies in these findings,he assessed the reasons for cross-temporal and cross-sectional variation ininstitutional performance, and he studied six of these regions in more depth asa result. This would not have been possible with a large-N study. Hence, a keybenefit of case studies is that you can explain outcomes with process tracing (Georgeand Bennett, 2005).
Bryman (1974) adds that qualitative research givespolitical scientists more freedom to shape their own design and therefore adaptto ‘social complexities’ to a much larger extent than quantitative methods ofstudy. Nevertheless comparative politics as a whole doesnot sacrifice breadth for depth as case studies mean that only one entity isanalysed and are therefore of a limited value to political scientists. Casestudies merely lay foundations as an explorative method to furtherunderstanding quantitative analysis (Lijphart,1975:160) as they are only usefulto “disconfirm a regularity to a limited degree” (Sartori, 1994:23). Therefore,in the field of comparative politics they have limited value, asgeneralisations cannot be drawn from them. The idea that brings both thelarge-N design and case studies together is the practice of small-N studies.Small-N analysis examines a small number of cases in depth, which are allselectively handpicked. One of the main strengths of these types of studies arethat they are “specified, complex models that are sensitive to variations bytime and place.
” (Coppedge, 1999). “Perils of Presidentialism” (Linz, 1990) isan example of small-N analysis. Linz considers the consequence thatpresidential and parliamentary government types have on states’ democraticability.
Linz’s research was carried out through selected cases (countries)from Western Europe (e.g. Italy, Spain and France), Latin America (such asChile, Argentina and Brazil) and North America. His hypothesis was based onproving if the nature of parliamentary rule was superior nature of presidentialrule. Small-N analysis enabled him to intentionally select case studies thathad alike characteristics to aide specific hypothesis testing. TheComparative Method (Collier, 1993) argues that small-N designs such asLinz’s enable the intensive analysis of a few cases with less energyexpenditure, financial resources and time. Therefore, intensive analysis can bemore productive than superficial statistical analysis, which can be timeconsuming and difficult to successfully execute as the collection of large datecan be extremely difficult. A benefit of utilising small-N instead of large-Nis that the studies can be operationalised at a lower level and consequentlythe results are likely to be valid as the concepts chosen are being accuratelymeasured.
Small-N scientists are critical of the case study method as theybelieve that patterns must come from theory or observation which is “validatedby intimate knowledge of the detail, nuance, and history of the small number ofcases” (Paul et al. 2013). However, once the number of cases expands, analystscan no longer “hold all the cases in their head” and the information is toolarge to be compared holistically and qualitatively without expecting a marginof error. Lijphart argues that this is because small-N analyses can focus on”comparable cases” that are matched on many variables that are not central tothe study. This means that they can effectively ‘control’ these variables. Theycan then choose countries, which differ in terms of key variables that are thefocus of the study which allows a more reliable assessment of their influence. Yet,small-N analysis has various weaknesses, which make it inferior to its large-Ncounterpart.
Goggin (1986) comments on the nature of small-N analysis, as thereare many variables yet a small number of cases. Therefore, it is more efficientto study more countries and consequently conduct a large-N study instead. As aresult, Linz’s study has come under great criticism for its underdevelopment.Kerlinger (1973) argues that the ideal research design must answer the researchquestion, introduce the element of control for extraneous independent variablesand permit the investigator to generalize from their findings. Small-N studiesare incapable of fulfilling these criteria. However, Prezworski et.
al in Democracy and Development (2000) studies 150 countries over 40 years toachieve a similar objective to Linz. Conversely, unlike Linz’s analysis, thisstudy complies with Kerlinger’s ideal research design as it allowsgeneralisation due to the increased scale of the project and randomisation of casestudies. After analysing the evidence, it portrays thatnone of the aforementioned methods achieve a perfect outcome, but that large-Nanalysis serves the purpose of comparative politics best. This is due to thefact that it is the only method, which can successfully draw large comparisonsand create generalisations to create typologies. Without large-N studies, theoriescould not be widely developed and created. Although small-N studies are usefulfor those who do not possess the time or resources to conduct a large-N study,they carry a selection bias and therefore results are not always accurate.
Similarly, both case studies and small-N studies still have the issue wherebyeven the smaller samples they handpick/select are not always guaranteed to becompletely representative. This means that large-N comparisons are more validand representative as they study a much larger percentage of the population andadditional countries. Even though case studies can take variables intoconsideration and therefore provide a more accurate picture, they are limitedas to what conclusions political scientists can draw from them. Subsequently,although depth is inevitably lost when comparing a large-N study to a small-Nstudy, breadth is essential to carry out the main function of comparativepolitics, which is to draw substantial comparisons.