Political Behaviour

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
29 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the study of political behaviour. This field is very broad and so the course will focus on how and why people participate in politics with the aim of changing what governments do.

The focus will be on how different types of participation are changing over time, and what forms are effective and what are not. The module will examine recent theoretical debates relating to the nature, significance, measurement and analysis of political participation. There will be special attention paid to how the role of participation differs across countries – depending in particular on how democratic and open they are.

The module falls into three main parts, addressing the following questions:

Part A: What do people do when they participate? How might we found out about what people do politically, and why they do it?

Part B: How do we explain why people participate in politics? Which theoretical approaches have been used to explain what people do – and why some people do it while others don't?

Part C: How do our understanding and explanations vary across different types of behaviour?

Module aims

Identifying political values and how they have changed over time
The political values and beliefs which underpin political participation have been experiencing significant changes in recent years. Before understanding participation as a form of political behaviour we need to examine the types of beliefs and values that people have which may or may not contribute to their participation in politics. We will examine these values and beliefs in a number of countries over time to evaluate their role in influencing political participation

Identifying what people do when they participate.
Participation involves a variety of different activities from talking to friends about politics, voting in elections, campaigning for a political party or for a specific cause, lobbying decision-makers, blogging and chatting on the internet, using twitter, contacting the media, marching in protest rallies, occupying buildings and public spaces, and in some countries taking up armed rebellion against the state. We map out the different sorts of activities which people undertake when they participate, and examine how participation varies by age, gender, social class and education and across countries.

Understanding why they participate
Most people do not spend a lot of time thinking about politics, so why do some people participate when others do not? What are the psychological triggers and motivations for participation, particularly activities like protesting? This is an aspect of a wider question of how people make decisions in politics, and how much of their political activities are driven by emotions as opposed to calculations of the costs and benefits. When it comes to political involvement the influence of friends and family can be quite important, so we look at the extent to which people are drawn into participation by their social networks. We look at some of the different theoretical ideas which have been used to explain participation and examine if these have changed over time.

Determining if participation achieves its objectives
People participate in order to try and change things, but do they succeed? Are some forms of participation much more effective than other? If so, why is this? We see some types of participation such as voting declining over time whereas other forms, particularly consumer participation involving buying or boycotting products and internet participation increasing in importance. Is this because voting is becoming ineffective whereas boycotting and the internet are effective? Similarly we have seen an upsurge in protest activities across the world, and in Britain over the issue of Brexit. What has been the effect of this?

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the modules, students will develop the following key skills:

1. Critical thinking: students will reflect on the quality of both theoretical arguments and empirical measurements of political behaviour, as well as others’ essays in the essay workshop

2. Transfer of ideas: the core theories (especially rational choice) and much of the methodological information can be applied in many other contexts, and the specific study of behaviour like voting and terrorism will be useful in specific later modules

3. Improving independent learning: By choosing their own form of participation and studying it in-depth, students will practise at the skills involved in their dissertations;

4. Communication and interaction: the two-hour sessions will involve plentiful large- and small-group discussions;

5. Writing: the essay workshop is specifically designed to strengthen the students’ understanding of how to write essays in general and, in particular, how to relate theoretical and empirical material from class in their essays.

By the end of the module students, should achieve the following learning outcomes:

1. a sophisticated understanding of what might count as political behaviour;

2. an understanding of how we know what we know about political behaviour – and the limits on our methods of finding out;

3. a critical understanding of various theoretical approaches – rational choice, RMR and more psychological theories – to explaining political behaviour

4. detailed knowledge of at least one form of political behaviour: its drivers and its effectiveness

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught over 2 hours per week


  • Green, Donald P; Schwam-Baird, Michael. (2016-03) 'Mobilization, participation, and American democracy', in Party Politics. vol. 22 (2) , pp.158-164
  • Dieter Rucht. (2007) 'The spread of protest politics', in Oxford handbook of political behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.708-723
  • Ruud Koopmans. (2007) 'Social movements', in Oxford handbook of political behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.693-707
  • André Blais. (2007) 'Turnout in elections', in Oxford handbook of political behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.621-635
  • Henry E. Brady; Sidney Verba; Kay Lehman Schlozman. (1995) 'Beyond SES: A Resource Model of Political Participation', in American Political Science Review. vol. 89 (2) , pp.271-294
  • Susan E. Scarrow. (2007) 'Political activism and party members', in Oxford handbook of political behavior, Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp.636-654
  • Clark McCauley; Sophia Moskalenko. (2008) 'Mechanisms of Political Radicalization: Pathways Toward Terrorism', in Terrorism and Political Violence. vol. 20 (3) , pp.415-433
  • Dahlgaard, Jens Olav; Hansen, Jonas Hedegaard; Hansen, Kasper M.; Bhatti, Yosef. (2019-10) 'Bias in Self-reported Voting and How it Distorts Turnout Models: Disentangling Nonresponse Bias and Overreporting Among Danish Voters', in Political Analysis. vol. 27 (4) , pp.590-598
  • Angus Campbell et al. (1960; republished 1980) The American voter, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Mancur Olson. (1971) The logic of collective action: public goods and the theory of groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Paul F. Whiteley. (1995) 'Rational Choice and Political Participation–Evaluating the Debate', in Political Research Quarterly. vol. 48 (1) , pp.211-233
  • Jan W. van Deth. (2014) 'A conceptual map of political participation', in Acta Politica. vol. 49 (3) , pp.349-367

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Online quiz    40% 
Coursework   Essay    60% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Daniele Saracino, email: daniele.saracino@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Iakovos Makropoulos
Module Supervisor: Dr Daniele Saracino Module Administrator: govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Stefano Pagliari
City, University of London
Senior Lecturer in International Politics
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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