The Comparative Study of Political Elites

by William B. Quandt


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A discussion of ways to better use the technique of social-background analysis and the considerable body of existing data in the study of national political elites. Comparative analysis is a necessary focus. Trend studies of characteristics of political decisionmakers show that percentages of older, university-educated politicians, as well as workers, increase in three out of four cases. Such analysis of comparative age, education, and occupation illuminates trends, is useful in studying different levels of authority, and clarifies and measures key concepts. It draws on social-background data to test theories and to trace the changing social bases of political elites. Searching for empirical relationships between background variables and political-social-economic change leads to the preliminary conclusion that political competition, dominance of liberal professionals, and slow rates of change are concomitants. Future research should focus on comparative studies of social backgrounds of leaders of countries that have yet to be analyzed.

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