A Scientific Approach to AP Comparative Government and Politics
By Adam Stengel
(AP/IB History, English Literature, English Language, History tutor at The Edge Learning Center)
I am NOT a scientist. But, of the all subjects and curriculums I tutor in, AP Comparative Government and Politics is the one that warrants the most scientific approach—that is, the process of “doing” the course calls for a scientific method of hypothesis, observation, and balancing independent and dependent variables. Thus, below I’d like to break down the curriculum’s base components, to demonstrate how comparing political systems across the globe is, to a large extent, scientific.
Understanding the 2 Key Terms of the Course
These key terms are in the name of the course: “Government” and “Politics.” Although these terms are often defined relatively, we need to think of them as objective and standardized.
Government=Institutions which create public policy.
*Public policy is thereafter divided into three different types.
1) Promotional Policy (policies “promoted” by the government, such as civil rights, need for war)
2) Regulatory Policy (policies such as laws or taxes that are “regulated by the government)
3) Distributive Policy (policies that given out by the government, such as welfare)
Politics=Who/What/When/Where/Why for such policy.
Sectors of Society
As government and politics affect society on multifarious levels, we must conceive of the two different social “sectors” where they manifest.
Private= This sector of society is run by individuals, often for enterprise or profit. They derive as corporations, small businesses, and everything in between.
Public= This sector is run by the government and, in least in theory, seeks to represent and enrich collective society. Examples include post offices, branches of government, and libraries.
Comparison by Scientific Method
The goal of this course is to compare one country to another. The six nations covered in the course are the United Kingdom of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland, People’s Republic of China, Federation of Russia, the United Mexican States, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hence, exam questions derive from or relate to country-to-country exemplifications. To do so, we need to undergo a “socioscientific” method.
A Hypothesis is a speculative statement that can be tested. Though in this course we’re not doing chemistry or biology, we are examining predictions that can be measured through observable data. An example of a socioscientific hypothesis: If one country has a larger military than another, it’s more likely to go to war. As we can see, when investigating such a prediction, statistical data could be employed to prove or disprove its validity.
Once established, a hypothesis must be investigated with variables, which are measurable traits or characteristics that alter in various conditions. In a social science, variable are practically infinite and include birthrate, literacy, poverty level, geographical features, institutional frameworks, and so on. Of course, in science, there are two types of variables: independent and dependent.
Consider this statement: In any country or region, literacy rates depend on the number of schools.
The dependent variable would be literacy rates, which is established by the independent variables (the number of schools).
Scientifically, we’re able to distinguish between variables through the theory of causation, which is the idea that one thing influences another. In turn, the validity of a hypothesis is distinguished through correlation, which exists when a change in one variable coincides with a change in another.
Why Scientific and Not Another Method of Comparison?
Essentially there are two methods by which things can be compared, by making normative or empirical claims.
A normative claim is based on a value judgment. In everyday life, politicians—or pretty much anybody with a global opinion—compare countries normatively. For instance, if somebody says that Mexico is a greater country than Iran because its citizens enjoy more personal freedoms and liberties they are bringing their ideas of good and bad and right and wrong into the relation. Think about it. One person’s idea of greatness might be different that another. Person A may think greatness is all about how the country’s government lives up to enlightened ideals, whilst another might think that it’s all about how loyal the country’s laws are to the Quran. Another word, it’s relative.
In the AP exam for this course, we won’t be operating normatively. Instead, we’ll be recalling and regurgitating information, and, by assessing empirical claims information, which can be quantified and thus verified, deriving from stats, data, and facts. For example: The press in Mexico, which enjoys much freedom and private ownership, is less censored than the completely state-controlled media of Iran. Though this statement does rely on some abstract concepts—such as freedom and censorship—statistics and data can be, to a significant extent, employed for determining the validity of such a speculation. Therefore, it is empirical. Quite possibly one’s individual course instructor will be administering assignments that involve the development and defense of normative claims, but, for the actual exam, both the multiple choice and free-response sections contend with the stuff of empiricism.
The Four Methods of Qualifying Countries (and Why Only One Is “Politically Correct” Today)
- The Three Worlds Approach: This method was developed by American academics during the Cold War. Like everything deviated from that mess, it is considered out of date and in need of revision.
A) First World Countries were those advanced democracies that, during the cold ware were allied with the United States, including much of Western Europe and North America, as well as South Korea and Japa
B) Second World Countries in turn were allied with former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including much of Eastern Europe and the Central Asian nations that end in “-Stan
C) Third World Countries thus belonged to neither alliance directly and included those in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa; many of these had recently been decolonized and were underdeveloped
This approach is outdated because it does not reflect the realignment that has distinguished the post-Soviet era, fails to account for China as THE emerging global power of the 21st century, and, again, puts things into the framework of a global conflict that has more or less subsided.
- Democracy versus Authoritarianism Approach: This one is also outdated, and might even be a better fit for the world before WWII, when authoritarian regimes, to a large extent, mirrored each other, and democracies were allied for the cause. Today’s authoritarian movements are complex and multifarious (from Sharia Law to Alt-Right movements) and the world’s so-called democracies fluctuate in degrees of freedoms and regulations. Therefore, it’s just too murky a framework to work within.
- Capitalism versus Communism: Once more, such a rigid binary fails to reflect that fact that “pure capitalist” and “pure communist” governments don’t really seem to exist today. Think about it. China, for instance, considers itself to be Maoist/Marxist, but, since the eighties, it has opened itself up to the free market. On the hand, can we really name a country without some kind of economic regulations in place? Alas, this dichotomy does not fit the globalization.
- MEDC versus LEDC Approach: Though nothing’s perfect, comparing “more economically developed countries” to “less economically developed countries” at least allows us to measure scientifically based on the status (or lack thereof) of each sector of a nation’s resources and degree of scarcity. The 3 sectors of the national economy are:
A) Primary Sector: retrieval and production of raw materials (agriculture, mining, fishing) and include occupations such as coal miners and fisherman
B) Secondary Sector: transforms materials into goods, production, and manufacturing; this sector includes occupations such as steel worker and clothier
C) Tertiary Sector: provides services, also called the service sector, to consumers; this only exists in nations that are developed to an extent and includes everything from a banker to a bartender
Though this approach we can make variable-based claims, claims that show up on the AP Exam. For instance, Britain has a large tertiary sector and a decreasing primary, while Nigeria is still largely reliant upon its raw materials for its GDP. Though a statement like this one might be more appropriate for Econ or Geography than Comparative Government and Politics, its construction is relevant for any social science and, therefore, to the curriculum. Moreover, because the economic framework of a nation emerges as a major component in determining its structures of government as well as its political institutions, it is the most valid means of comparison we have available.
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