What is Political Science All About?

Political Science professionals sitting at a conference

When you think of the term political science, you might think of presidential campaigns, political parties or policy analysis on the evening news. But political science also seeks to analyze and predict critical issues that affect our lives every day, including globalization, terrorism, climate change, civil rights and diplomacy.

In fact, political science broadly refers to the study of governments, public policies and political behavior both in the United States and abroad, according to the American Political Science Association.

What is a Political Scientist?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy reveals that the field of political science is a social science that dates back 2,500 years with the works of Plato and Aristotle, who defined it as the "study of the state" and were interested in the greater good of their citizens.

But What Does a Political Scientist Actually Study?

Today, using a variety of tools and methodologies, political scientists examine the processes, systems and political dynamics of countries and regions of the world and how they affect their constituents, according to the American Political Science Association. Some might look at why governments adopt certain policies or what issues drive citizens to vote. Some might develop surveys to predict political opinions or analyze voting trends, while others may focus on statistics to analyze election results, The College Board notes.

The International Association for Political Science Students describes today's political scientists as seeing themselves "engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions, and from these revelations they attempt to construct general principles about the way the world of politics works." For example, they might evaluate the financial impact of specific policies, such as healthcare reform; collect data from public opinion surveys to analyze how different subgroups feel about a new law, policy or candidate; or even forecast social trends based on historical data, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Is Political Science a Good Major?

Studying political science develops strong research, writing and analytical skills and opens the door to a diverse number of careers that aren't exclusive to a role in government or politics. The Princeton Review suggests that to be successful in political science, your undergraduate program should emphasize the following knowledge and skills:

  • A strong understanding of your audience
  • Ability to manage crises and solve problems
  • Writing and research skills
  • Public speaking and presentation skills
  • Proficiency with social media

As an undergraduate, you can expect to take courses in the sub-fields of political science, including American politics, comparative politics, international relations and political theory, in addition to liberal arts courses. These courses focus on political concepts, political behavior, policy issues and structures of government in the United States and across the globe, according to the American Political Science Association.

No matter what area of political science you study, the critical skills you develop in research, analysis and communications can help you succeed both inside and outside the political arena.

What Can You Do with a Political Science Degree?

A political science degree can open the door to a diverse array of job roles that allow you to apply your writing and analytical skills across a wide range of industries. If you are asking yourself, "Is a political science degree worth it?" consider the following potential political science careers:

  • Political Scientist - If you're interested in researching political subjects, collecting data or forecasting trends, a career as a political scientist allows you to work in government, education or for a nonprofit organization, according to BLS. Political scientists typically specialize in one of the following areas: national politics, comparative politics, international relations or political theory. They may use both historical documents and quantitative methods to develop theories about voting patterns and political thought, according to BLS. A master's degree or Ph.D. in political science, public administration or a related field may be required for some positions, according to Payscale. The median annual salary for political scientists with graduate degrees was $115,110 in 2017, BLS reports.
  • Policy Analyst - Apply your research skills as a policy analyst to evaluate current policies and events using public opinion surveys, economic data and election results. From these sources, policy analysts look to anticipate the effects of new policies, according to BLS. Policy analysts often work directly in government or for non-government organizations that lobby for policy adjustments. Some for-profit companies use policy analysts to help influence political action. Payscale reports that the average salary for policy analysts is $54,896 per year.
  • Legislative Assistant - Legislators need help during the law creation process, including with appointment setting, research and communications. As a legislative assistant, you would help create and analyze drafts that meet legislative standards, track legislation and conduct research on legislative and policy issues, according to Payscale. A legislative assistant earns an average salary of $39,871 per year, Payscale reports.
  • Public Relations Specialist - Public relations specialists manage the public image of businesses, government and nonprofit organizations. Many of them represent special interest groups, associations, or political campaigns. Political science courses place heavy emphasis on developing writing and speaking skills, which is beneficial for success in a public relations role, according to the American Political Science Association. Job duties include responding to information requests from the media, writing speeches, organizing events, building social media campaigns, and analyzing public opinion, according to BLS. The median annual wage for public relations specialists was $59,300 in 2017, BLS reports.
  • Market Research Analyst - Winning political campaigns and successful policy decisions rely on good primary and secondary market research. As a market research analyst, you apply math and analytical skills to examine the profitability of a product or service. In politics, you might use market research to help a candidate or campaign shape a strategy. In business, market research analysts help organizations better understand what products people want, what segment of the population will buy them, how they should be priced. In addition to collecting data through surveys and opinion polling, market research analysts interpret and forecast data for their organization or clients, according to BLS. The median annual wage for market research analysts was $63,230 in 2017, BLS reports.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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