Political Scientists

Summary

political scientists image
Political scientists may analyze government policy.
Quick Facts: Political Scientists
2015 Median Pay $99,730 per year
$47.95 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 6,200
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -2% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -100

What Political Scientists Do

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

Work Environment

Political scientists typically work full time in an office. They sometimes work additional hours to finish reports and meet deadlines. More than half worked in the federal government in 2014.

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for political scientists was $99,730 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of political scientists is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Political scientists should face strong competition for jobs as the number of candidates is expected to exceed the number of available positions.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for political scientists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of political scientists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about political scientists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Political Scientists Do

Political scientists
Political scientists work in a variety of organizations that have a stake in policy, such as government, labor, and political organizations.

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, 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
  • Develop theories, using qualitative sources, such as historical documents
  • Test theories, using quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis
  • 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: 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 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. Political scientists 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, where they may work for organizations that have a stake in policy, such as government, labor, and political organizations. They 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 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.

Work Environment

Political scientists
Political scientists often present their findings.

Political scientists held about 6,200 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most political scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 55%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 23
Educational services; state, local, and private 9

Work Schedules

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
Political scientists analyze quantitative and qualitative data.

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.

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 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

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. Internships 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.

Important 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.

Communication skills. Political scientists often collaborate with other researchers when writing reports or giving presentations. They must communicate their findings to a wide variety of audiences.

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 political scientists, because they often write research papers. They must be able to convey their research results clearly.

Pay

Political Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Political scientists

$99,730

Social scientists and related workers

$72,570

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for political scientists was $99,730 in May 2015. 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 $47,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $162,500.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $120,510
Professional, scientific, and technical services 115,400
Educational services; state, local, and private 48,880

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

Job Outlook

Political Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Social scientists and related workers

12%

Total, all occupations

7%

Political scientists

-2%

 

Employment of political scientists is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024.

More than 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 departmental cuts, and advantages of proposed improvements. However, efforts to cut spending are expected to result in a decline in federal government employment, adversely impacting employment of political scientists.

Political organizations, lobbying firms, and many nonprofit, labor, and social organizations 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 organizations to focus specifically on politics and political theory. Organizations that research or advocate for specific causes, such as immigration, 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 a graduate degree, 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.

Some candidates with a bachelor’s degree in political science may find entry-level jobs as assistants and research assistants. Many will also find positions in other in fields, such as business and law.

Employment projections data for political scientists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Political scientists

19-3094 6,200 6,000 -2 -100 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of political scientists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
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Master's degree $61,220
Economists

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Postsecondary teachers

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See How to Become One $72,470
Sociologists

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Master's degree $73,760
Survey researchers

Survey Researchers

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Urban and regional planners

Urban and Regional Planners

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Master's degree $68,220
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Political Scientists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm (visited May 06, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015