Public Choice and Politics

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Torun Dewan


This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy, BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science, BSc in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students will normally be expected to have taken GV101 Introduction to the Study of Politics, or equivalent, in a previous year. An introductory knowledge of economics would be useful.

Course content

This course is concerned with positive political economy and public choice theory applied to the study of political conflicts, democratic institutions and public policy. The course covers the main tools for the study of public choice (rational decision-making theory, game theory, social choice theory) and a number of both theoretical and applied topics, including the empirical study of institutions. This course will cover the main topics in positive political economy and institutional public choice. These include: the aggregation of preferences; voting paradoxes and cycles; electoral competition and voting behaviour; the problems of and solutions to collective action; welfare state and redistribution; the impact of information and mass media on voting behaviour and public policy; the theory of coalitions, the behaviour of committees and legislatures including agenda-setting and veto-player power; principal-agent problems in politics; models of bureaucracy.


This course provides a combination of classes and lectures totalling 24 hours in the Michaelmas Term, 25 hours in the Lent Term and 2.5 hours in the Summer Term.

There will be reading week in Week 6 of both the MT and the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will complete at least one formative essay and at least one timed essay in each term to allow practise on problem sets and essay writing under exam conditions.

Indicative reading

P Dunleavy, Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice; D Mueller, Public Choice III; K A Shepsle & M S Bonchek, Analyzing Politics; George Tsebelis, Veto Players. Major Works; A Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy; M Olson, The Logic of Collective Action; W Niskanen, Bureaucracy and Representative Government.


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Online assessment (50%) in the ST.

Online assessment duration: 7 days in the ST.



The Class Summary Grade for General Course students will be calculated as follows: 25% formative essay (best mark), 25% timed essay (best mark), 50% class participation (including presentations and attendance).

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 36.9
2:1 46.2
2:2 13.1
Third 2.3
Fail 1.5

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 43

Average class size 2021/22: 9

Capped 2021/22: No

Lecture capture used 2021/22: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills