What is a Political Scientist?

Political scientists are part researcher, part analyst, and part forecaster. They use their expertise to understand how policies and laws affect government, business, and citizens. They look back at history and monitor current affairs to predict trends. Certainly, political science includes the study of institutions of government, formal laws, political processes, and political issues; but it also examines public opinion, political parties, and economics. As a science, the study of politics strives to be systematic, objective, and impartial. Ideally, randomness and subjectivity are avoided and personal biases and partisan views are kept out of the process. This is not to say that a political scientist cannot offer opinions as well as conclusions, but the discipline requires that they be based on fact and supported by evidence and reasoning.

The largest focus of political science in the United States is American Government; also referred to as civics. The discipline studies voting behavior, political parties, lawmaking, the Constitution, public administration, public policy, the role of the courts, and other facets of American government.

In more general terms, the diverse field of political science is divided into four major subfields. To understand what a political scientist is, it is necessary to comprehend the distinctions that define the areas of the discipline.

Comparative Politics
As the name suggests, comparative politics compares systems of government, such as democracy, republic, monarchy, communism, etc. It is, essentially, the study of political experience within more than one nation-state for the purpose of making systematic comparisons. Political scientists in this arena examine the structure and the impacts of political parties.

International Relations
Political scientists who study international relations examine the ways that nations interact. Whereas the subfield of comparative politics examines and contrasts the internal workings of multiple nations, international relations considers how countries relate to one another. This endeavor is concerned with foreign policy, military questions, national security, trade policy, and international finance. Some of its focus is on how nation-states cooperate, trade, argue, and go to war.

Political Economy
This branch of political science is the study of how politics and economics affect each other. Political scientists in this subfield investigate how a country is managed or governed, taking into account both political and economic factors. This may involve assessing fiscal policies, stabilization measures, and public regulation of industry. It may include examining the impact of economic power on international relations or how different economies evolve within similar political systems. It may consider ways in which political reform could lead to a more just or more efficient society.

Political Philosophy
Political philosophy is the most abstract branch of political science. It is concerned with fundamental questions about the state, government, politics, liberty, justice, civil rights, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority. It is, essentially, ethics applied to a group of people, and discusses how a society should be set up and how individuals should act within a society.

Political philosophy asks questions like: What is a government? Why are governments needed? What makes a government legitimate? What rights and freedoms should a government protect? What duties do citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any? When may a government be legitimately overthrown, if ever?

What does a Political Scientist do?

It is not surprising that a background in political science can be applied to a variety of fields, because politics and government impact so many elements of our lives. The answer to the question, What does a political scientist do?, therefore, is multifaceted. Political scientists do not do one specific thing. Their specialized knowledge in one or more of the subfields described above – comparative politics, international relations, political economy, or political philosophy – can be valuable in several roles. Below are some of the sectors and roles to which they may bring their expertise.

Government and Politics

Lobbyist
Lobbyists or activists seek to persuade members of the government (like members of Congress) to enact legislation that would benefit their particular group or sector. The lobbying process involves researching and analyzing legislation or regulatory proposals, attending congressional meetings, and educating government officials and corporate officers on relevant issues. Lobbyists also work to change public opinion through advertising and publicity campaigns or by influencing so-called opinion leaders.

Political Campaign Manager
Getting a political candidate elected is the objective of a political campaign manager. To make this happen involves researching, planning, and implementing the right strategies. In this role, a comparative political scientist might use their knowledge of the policies and methodologies of competing political parties. A political economy specialist could also be hired as a campaign manager, to positively present a candidate’s fiscal policies and position on regulation of particular industries.

Career Politician
Many politicians have a political science background. It is easy to see how expertise in one or more the discipline’s subfields could be useful in presenting a political platform and gathering the public and party support required in this role.

Political Consultant
Government officials do not make decisions on their own. They seek advice from experts to shape policies and proposals and to evaluate public perception and reaction. Political scientists with a background in political economy, for example, would be well equipped to advise on the feasibility and political fallout of economic reforms being considered by an incumbent government.

Business

International Business Specialist With their knowledge of national and international policies and global trends, these specialists bring valuable insights and an understanding of consumer behavior and how economies work. A political scientist who has extensively studied international relations can better defend company interests, conduct discussions, and negotiate contracts that are beneficial and profitable.

Market researcher
Some of the best market researchers have experience in the political science realm. This should not be surprising, considering the components of their job: collecting information on customer opinions about products or services; assessing and coordinating research projects; and communicating with clients to understand business objectives. Without question, practitioners of this work can benefit from familiarity with different political systems, different economic structures, and different philosophies of governance within the international marketplace.

Public Relations Specialiist
There is no disputing that a political scientist would bring invaluable experience to the role of PR specialist to a political candidate or government official. This work starts with understanding the dynamics and public perceptions of all the political parties in play, the potential impact of the current economic landscape, and the evolution of voter opinions.

Law

Understanding how international laws shape government policies. Being aware of the common set of rules politicians worldwide should operate by. Recognizing the differences between various legal systems and how they interact on the global stage. Law and political science go hand-in-hand.

Journalism / Media

Political analysts, commentators, and journalists, who cover news and events related to politics, often have a background in political science. Media outlets benefit from their understanding of the political climate, international trends, global events, and international history.

Education

Graduates with a degree in political science can pursue opportunities in the education sector. Those who earn a Ph.D. will be qualified to teach at the university level.

Regardless of the specific kind of work they do, all political scientists will find themselves involved in some combination of the following activities:

  • Researching political subjects, such as the U.S. political system; relations between the United States and foreign countries; and political ideologies
  • Collecting and analyzing data from sources such as public opinion surveys and election results
  • Using qualitative sources, such as historical documents, to develop theories
  • Use quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis, to test theories
  • Evaluating the effects of policies and laws on government, businesses, and people
  • Monitoring current events, policy decisions, and other issues relevant to their work
  • Forecasting political, economic, and social trends
  • Presenting research results by writing reports, giving presentations, and publishing articles

Are you suited to be a political scientist?

Political scientists have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

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What is the workplace of a Political Scientist like?

Political scientists may be found in a variety of workplaces. Of course, professors and graduate students teach and conduct research within the ivy-covered walls of universities. Inside the skyscrapers of big cities, many political scientists are employed by private corporations as policy analysts, writers, and commentators; and find themselves working in bustling offices or television studios. Still others are called to public service and spend their workdays within the halls of government.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a Political Scientist and a Sociologist?

Political science and sociology are very closely related. There are, however, significant differences between the two disciplines.

Political Science

Is a science of state and government
Studies only politically organized societies
Has a narrow field
Studies man as a political animal
Only concentrates on human relationships which are political in character
Has an approach that is political
Has its own methods of study: the historical method; the philosophical method; comparative and statistical methods
Comparatively, is an older science
Has centuries of history in its own right, from the days of Plato and Cicero

Political science focuses on political theory and government administration. Political scientists try to understand how policies and laws affect government, business, and citizens. They look back at history and also keep track of current affairs so as to predict trends. Political science includes the study of institutions of government, formal laws, political processes, and political issues, and also examines public opinion, political parties, and economics.

Sociology

Is a science of society
Studies all kinds of societies, both organized and unorganized
Has a wider scope
Studies man as fundamentally a social animal
Is a general social science, which studies all kinds of forms and social relations in a general way
Has an approach that is sociological
It follows its own methods, in addition to the scientific method, in its investigation
Is a relatively young science, less than two centuries old

Sociology is the study of all aspects of society. Sociologists are focused on the interrelationship between social institutions, including government. Because group behaviour is of much importance to sociologists, their studies encompass societies’ political systems and the distribution of formal and informal power and authority within them. They seek to understand how different systems – democracy, communism, dictatorship – affect how people live their lives and how they interact with one another.

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See Also
Sociologist

Political Scientists are also known as:
Government Policy Maker Public Policy Maker