Paper ideas

A term paper in this class can be on any politics topic, as long as it approaches that topic with a hypothesis that is empirical, explanatory, and generalizable.

  • An empirical (as opposed to normative) question is one that is about how the world works as a practical matter. It is not a question about how you wish the world would work or what kinds of things you wish other people would do, and it does rest on an explanation of why one set of values are better than another.
  • An explanatory (as opposed to descriptive) question is one that asks why things happen, rather than whether things happen. Do not write a paper that proves that genocide or war or whatever is actually happening. Instead, write a paper that explains why one of those things happens.
  • generalizable (as opposed to specific) question is one that asks about lots of related events, rather than one. Do not write a paper that tries to explain why one event happened the way that it did. Write a paper that compares lots of events, and non-events.

Here are lots of examples of research questions that would be great in this class. Any of these would make a great topic, although you should feel free as well to come up with one of your own. This list is meant to give you ideas, not to narrow down your choices.

  • Questions that compare policies in different countries:
    • Why do some countries have an official language but others do not?
    • Why do some countries have universal health care but others do not?
    • Why do some countries have required military service but others do not?
    • Why do some countries have free college but others do not?
    • Why do some countries have a public pension program (like Social Security in the U.S.) but others have a private pension system?
    • Why do some countries have permissive abortion policies but others have more restrictive policies?
    • Why do some countries have more legal protections for LGBT+ people but others do not?
    • ….and so on. Day care, education spending, military spending, trains, prisoners, etc. Or, instead of asking about the causes of any of those things, ask about the effects of any of them.
  • Questions that compare things involving peace and violence:
    • Why do some countries have civil wars but others do not?
    • Why do some countries get targeted by terrorist groups but others do not?
    • Why do some countries start wars but others do not?
    • Why do some countries join alliances but others do not?
    • Why do some minority groups form rebel or terrorist groups but others do not?
    • ….and so on. Arms races, arms control treaties, chemical weapons, etc. Or, instead of asking about the causes of any of those things, ask about the effects of any of them.
  • Questions about elections:
    • Why do some countries have more active far-right (or far-left) political parties than others?
    • Why do some U.S. states have more centrist (or extremist) political parties?
    • What are the consequences for a politician’s re-election of a scandal or a recession or an endorsement?
    • What are the effects of having open primaries instead of closed primaries?
    • What are the effects on a state in the U.S. of having a Republican versus Democratic governor or legislature for (whatever policy or effect interests you).
    • Why do female or minority candidates win elections in some places but not others?
    • ….and so on. Again, you could also ask about the causes or effects or any of these things.