Quick Facts: Political Scientists
2012 Median Pay
$102,000 per year
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Number of Jobs, 2012
Job Outlook, 2012-22
21% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22
What Political Scientists Do
Political scientists advise governments, businesses, or organizations on political issues.
Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.
Political scientists typically do the following:
Research political subjects, such as the U.S. political system, relations between the United States and foreign countries, and political ideologies
Collect and analyze data from sources such as public opinion surveys and election results
Use qualitative sources, such as historical documents, to develop theories
Use quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis, to test theories
Evaluate the effects of policies and laws on government, businesses, and people
Monitor current events, policy decisions, and other issues relevant to their work
Forecast political, economic, and social trends
Present research results by writing reports, giving presentations, and publishing articles
Political scientists usually conduct research within one of four primary subfields: American 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 For example, they may use historical documents to analyze past government structures and policies.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 heavily on quantitative methods to develop and research theories. For example, they may analyze data to see whether a relationship exists between a certain political system and a particular outcome. In so doing, political scientists can study 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. In this position, they may work for a variety of organizations that have a stake in policy, such as government, labor, and political organizations. They also evaluate current policies and events using public opinion surveys, economic data, and election results. From these sources, they can learn the expected impact of new policies.
Political scientists held about 6,600 jobs in 2012. About half worked for the federal government. Others worked for think tanks, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, political lobbying groups, and labor organizations.
Political scientists work full time in an office. They may work overtime to finish reports and meet deadlines.
Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,400 new jobs over the 10-year period. Political scientists should face strong competition for jobs as the number of candidates is expected to exceed the number of available positions.
Political scientists often research the specific effects of government policies on a particular region or population, both domestically and internationally. In doing so, they can examine how a particular policy affects a social group, economy, or environment. 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.
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.
Jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree in political science usually qualify for entry-level positions in many related fields. Some qualify for entry-level positions as research assistants for research organizations, political campaigns, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. Many go into fields outside of politics and policymaking, such as business or law.
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. Working in an internship on a congressional staff or for a research organization will help applicants gain experience writing, researching, analyzing data, or working with policy issues.
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.
Political scientists can 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: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.
Political scientists who teach at colleges and universities need a Ph.D. Graduates with a master’s degree in political science sometimes become postsecondary teachers and high school teachers.
Jobseekers who have earned a bachelor’s degree can benefit from internships or volunteer work when looking for entry-level positions in political science or a related field. They give students a chance to apply their academic knowledge in a professional setting and develop skills needed for the field.
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.