The course provides the key tools for interpreting and analyzing politics, with particular attention to the study of public opinion, political participation, democratic quality and new challenges for contemporary democracies. After a methodological introduction aimed at illustrating research methods and strategies, in the first part of the course we will explore topics such as the distinction between democratic and authoritarian political regimes as well as between different models of democracy. The second part will consider the actors (mainly the parties) and the institutions of representation (parliaments and governments). The third part will look at the processes and outcomes of the democratic process (public opinion, participation and public policies). Finally, the fourth part will consider the main transformations and challenges for modern democracies such as the crisis of the nation state, the impact of economic recession, populism and changes in party systems, public opinion and citizen participation. Particular attention will be paid to the Italian and the South-European contexts.