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Student Research Project Guidelines

Appendix C in Party Systems and Country Governance (p. 207) raises this challenge:

Select two countries in the same region of the world. One country should be an overachiever and one an underachiever. Consider a +0.25 deviation from the predicted score as indicative of an overachiever and a -0.25 deviation signaling an underachiever. Conduct original research to explain why one country did much better than expected and the other did much worse than expected. Following the length and style specifications of your instructor, write a paper explaining your results. [Note that early printings of the the book says ±25, erroneously omitting the decimal point.]

Selecting countries whose predicted scores deviated ±0.25 from their actual scores attempts to remove the effects of measurement error in determining overachievers and underachievers. In fact, the ±0.25 requirement is not strict enough to deal adequately with measurement error, but the criterion will serve for this student project. (For further discussion, go here.)

We ask you to compare two countries within the same region to avoid the tendency to employ "national character" explanations of differences in country governance. For example, one might be tempted to say that an eastern European country underachieved on Rule of Law because eastern Europeans favor "strong leaders," while a western European country overachieved because western Europeans trust their legal systems.

Guideline for Selecting Countries

First, from the table on the Governance Project Home Page, choose one or more regions of the world that interest you. Click on the regions and look at the line patterns. Note what is said on each graph:

The red line measures deviations from predicted values, which are represented by the blue line. Ignore the gap between the red and blue lines and concentrate on how closely the red line centers toward 0. The closer to 0, the less the deviation of a country's observed score on Rule of Law from its predicted score.

Try to identify two countries in the same region that show deviations greater than +0.25 to the right of the center line and those that show deviations greater than -0.25 to the left of the center line. These countries are candidates for selection as overachievers and underachievers.

Next, go to the 212 individual PDF files for each country in the study, which you can access from the Governance Project Home Page. These files report the percentages of seats held by the top three parliamentary parties after the stimulus and referent elections and indicate how each country was scored for party system competitiveness, viscosity, and aggregation. It also reports each country's size and wealth, which figure as control variables in predicting to the Worldwide Governance Indicators.

For the Rule of Law indicator, the PDF files report the data in the country graphs--the predicted and residual scores for Rule of Law--and the observed WGI rule of Law score. The PDF files also indicate whether the country is a suggested underachiever or overachiever. The other WGI scores are given as well.

Guidelines for Explaining Underachievers and Overachievers

In accounting for country differences between governance overachievers and underachievers, you might consider these factors:

• Do sharp ideological differences exist among the parties in one party system but not the other?
• Do contentious ethnic, religious, or regional differences exist between the countries?
• Do both countries have the same governmental structure (e.g., presidential and parliamentary), or are they profoundly different?
• Do both countries have the same electoral system (e.g., proportional representation or majority representation), or are they profoundly different?
• Do the countries differ critically in their history concerning war, foreign intervention, economic collapse, or length of independence?
• Do they differ in their source of wealth? In particular, does their wealth come from oil or other exploited natural resources in one country but not the other?
• Are the differences in governance due to their history of exceptionally good or bad political leadership?

In considering these explanatory factors, it is up to you to locate information from printed publications or Internet sources. A useful source of information, especially for smaller countries, is the CIA's World Factbook, which succinctly describes each country's history, government, economy, social structure, and so on. However, that site only lists the current World Factbooks, which the CIA has issued every year for decades. Fortunately, you can access every Factbook since 1982 at Countries of the World. Choose the years that correspond to the stimulus and referent elections for your pair of countries.