EU4B1      Half Unit
Political Elites, Leadership, and Decision-Making

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Miguel Pereira (CBG.6.06)


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Columbia), MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in European and International Public Policy, MSc in European and International Public Policy (LSE and Bocconi), MSc in European and International Public Policy (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Migration and Public Policy, MSc in International Migration and Public Policy (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Political Economy of Europe, MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Fudan) and MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Sciences Po). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). In previous years we have been able to provide places for all students that apply but that may not continue to be the case.

Course content

In public discourse, politicians and decision-makers are often described as resourceful, opportunistic actors driven by selfish interests. Reality is considerably more nuanced and less Machiavellian. Politicians often lack resources to make informed decisions, suffer from cognitive biases, and rely on misperceptions and stereotypes that are ultimately reflected on policy. Political elites are also responsible for a great deal of unrecognized work that cannot be explained simply by the desire to be re-elected. This course introduces students to the study of political elites and decision-making in European countries, drawing from historical and contemporary research in political science, psychology, and sociology. The course will pool insights from scholarship on elite behaviour in subnational, national, and supranational governments. Throughout the term we will learn: What drives individuals to run for office? How do politicians learn about policies? How do politicians coordinate with each other and make decisions? How do psychological biases influence the behaviour of politicians, and how can these biases be overcome? How do representatives build their image of the electorate? How do parties constrain legislators? By focusing on political elites, the course will help students understand the underlying challenges of the policymaking process as well as the pitfalls of representative democracy in Europe. More importantly, it will provide tools for students to address these challenges.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of seminars in the ST.

Students will develop collaborative research projects on elite behaviour in three stages. First, students will work in groups to develop research questions related to topics in elite behaviour and political decision-making. Second, they will design a survey instrument to answer this question. Finally, students will have the opportunity to implement these survey instruments in the European Panel of Local Officials (EPLO) if approved by an external committee. EPLO is an international survey of local elected officials (mayors and councilmembers) in seven European countries. This practical opportunity will allow students to test with real politicians some of the research questions covered in class. Students will be given detailed instructions about the project in week 2 so that they can start to work on this over the term.

Formative coursework

1 x Individual oral Presentation, these will take place throughout WT.

1 x Research Proposal (research question + survey instrument), due in WT week 11 (1,000 words). Group work.

Indicative reading

  • Dahl, Robert A. (1961/2005). Who Governs?. New Haven: Yale University Press,
  • Weber, Max. (1919/1989). The Profession of Politics. Plutarch Press.
  • Lawless, J. L., & Fox, R. L. (2010). It still takes a candidate: Why women don’t run for office. Cambridge University Press.
  • Bruter, M., & Harrison, S. (2009). Tomorrow’s leaders? Understanding the involvement of young party members in six European democracies. Comparative political studies.
  • Gulzar, S. (2021). Who enters politics and why?. Annual Review of Political Science, 24, 253-275.
  • Sheffer, L., Loewen, P. J., Soroka, S., Walgrave, S., & Sheafer, T. (2018). Nonrepresentative representatives: An experimental study of the decision making of elected politicians. American Political Science Review.
  • Pereira, M. M. (2021). Understanding and reducing biases in elite beliefs about the electorate. American Political Science Review.
  • Payne, James L. et al. (1984) The Motivation of Politicians. Chicago: Nelson Hall
  • Zelizer, A. (2019). Is position-taking contagious? evidence of cue-taking from two field experiments in a state legislature. American Political Science Review.
  • Broockman, D. E., & Butler, D. M. (2017). The causal effects of elite position‐taking on voter attitudes: Field experiments with elite communication. American Journal of Political Science.


Take-home assessment (100%) in the ST.

The online assessment for this course will be administered via Moodle. Questions will be made available at a set date/time and students will be given a set period in the ST to complete the answers to questions and upload their responses back into Moodle.

Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half 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