Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.
What they do
Political scientists research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.
They typically do the following:
- Research political subjects, such as the U.S. political system and foreign relations
- Collect and analyze data from sources such as public opinion surveys
- Develop and test political theories
- Evaluate the effects of policies and laws on government, businesses, and people
- Monitor current events, policy decisions, and other related issues
- Forecast political, economic, and social trends
- Submit research results by giving presentations and publishing articles
Political scientists usually conduct research in one of the following areas: national politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.
Often, political scientists use qualitative methods in their research, gathering information from numerous sources. For example, they may use historical documents to analyze past government structures and policies. Political scientists also rely on quantitative methods to develop and research theories. For example, they may analyze voter registration data to identify voting patterns. Political scientists study a wide range of topics such as U.S. political parties, how political structures differ among countries, globalization, and the history of political thought.
Political scientists also work as policy analysts for organizations that have a stake in policy, such as government, labor unions, and political groups. They evaluate current policies and events using public opinion surveys, economic data, and election results. From these sources, they try to anticipate the effects of new policies.
Political scientists often research the effects of government policies on a particular region or population, both domestically and internationally. As a result, they provide information and analysis that help in planning, developing, or carrying out policies.
Many people with a political science background become postsecondary teachers and high school teachers.
Political scientists typically work full time in an office. They may work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines.
How to become a Political Scientist
Political scientists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in political science, public administration, or a related field.
Most political scientists need to complete either a master’s or Ph.D. program. To be admitted to a graduate program, applicants should complete undergraduate courses in political science, writing, and statistics. Applicants also benefit from having related work or internship experience.
Political scientists often complete a master of public administration (MPA), master of public policy (MPP), or master of public affairs degree. These programs usually combine several disciplines, and students can choose to concentrate in a specific area of interest. Most offer core courses in research methods, policy formation, program evaluation, and statistics. Some colleges and universities also offer master’s degrees in political science, international relations, or other applied political science specialties.
Some political scientists also complete a Ph.D. program, which requires several years of coursework followed by independent research for a dissertation. Most Ph.D. candidates choose to specialize in one of four primary subfields of political science: national politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.
Jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree in political science usually qualify for entry-level positions in a related field, such as assistants or research assistants for research organizations, political campaigns, or nonprofit organization. They may also qualify for some government positions. Others go into fields outside of politics and policymaking, such as business or law.
Entry-level jobseekers can benefit from internships or volunteer work through clubs and political organizations. These activities can give students a chance to apply their academic knowledge in a professional setting and to develop the analytic, research, and writing skills needed for the field.
The median annual wage for political scientists was $122,220 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,960, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $164,210.
Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Increased demand for public policy analysis in both government and non-government organizations will support employment growth for these workers.
Half of all political scientists are employed by the federal government. Political scientists will continue to be needed in government to assess the impact of government policies, such as the efficiencies of public services, effects of budget changes, and advantages of proposed improvements.
Political organizations, lobbying firms, and labor unions rely on the knowledge of political scientists to manage complicated legal and regulatory issues and policies. Political scientists will be needed at research and policy institutes to focus specifically on politics and political theory. Organizations that research or advocate for specific causes, such as immigration policy, healthcare, or the environment, also need political scientists to analyze policies relating to their field.
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The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Academy of Political and Social Science
- American Association for Public Opinion Research
- American Association of University Professors
- American Political Science Association
- American Society for Public Administration
- Association for Asian Studies
- International Studies Association
- Law and Society Association
- Midwest Political Science Association
- New England Political Science Association
Magazines and Publications
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Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org