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What Political Scientists Do

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


Political scientists typically do the following:

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, gathering information from numerous sources. For example, they may use historical documents to analyze the effects of past government structures and policies. They may evaluate current policies and events using public opinion surveys, economic data, and election results. From these sources, they may learn the expected impact of new 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, they may 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 provide information and analysis that help in planning, developing, or carrying out policies. Alternatively, political scientists may assess existing policies and study their impact on different groups.

Many people with a political science background become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition