Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.

Duties

Political scientists 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 For example, they may use historical documents to analyze past government structures and policies.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.

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Work Environment

Political scientists held about 6,200 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of political scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 53%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 26
Educational services; state, local, and private 8
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations                        5
Self-employed workers 1

Work Schedules

Political scientists typically work full time in an office. They may work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines.

Education and Training

Political scientists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in political science, public administration, or a related field.

Education

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.

Other Experience

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.

Personality and Interests

Political scientists typically have an interest in the Thinking, Creating and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Creating or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a political scientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Political scientists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Political scientists often use qualitative and quantitative research methods. They rely on their analytical skills when they collect, evaluate, and interpret data.

Critical-thinking skills. Political scientists must be able to examine and process available information and draw logical conclusions from their findings.

Intellectual curiosity. Political scientists must continually explore new ideas and information to produce original papers and research. They must stay current on political subjects and come up with new ways to think about and address issues.

Writing skills. Writing skills are essential for those who write papers on political issues. They must be able to convey their research results clearly.

Pay

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.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services $133,200
Federal government, excluding postal service 126,060
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations                                80,800
Educational services; state, local, and private 79,640

Political scientists typically work full time in an office. They may work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines.

Job Outlook

Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 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.

Job Prospects

Political scientists should face strong competition for most jobs. The small number of positions, combined with the popularity of political science programs in colleges and universities, means that there will likely be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.

Candidates with advanced degrees, strong writing and analytical skills, and experience researching or performing policy analysis should have the best job prospects. Candidates who have specialized knowledge or experience in their field of interest will also have better job opportunities. Internships or volunteer work also may be helpful.

For More Information

For more information about political scientists and political science careers, visit

American Political Science Association

American Association of Political Consultants

For more information about college programs in public affairs and administration, visit

Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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