Bureau of Labor Statistics

Political Scientists

political scientists image
Political scientists research policies, trends, and issues.
Quick Facts: Political Scientists
2018 Median Pay $117,570 per year
$56.52 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 6,200
Job Outlook, 2018-28 5% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 300

Summary

What Political Scientists Do

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.

Work Environment

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

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 $117,570 in May 2018.

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. 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 often present their findings.

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.

Work Environment

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 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.

How to Become a Political Scientist

Political scientists
Political scientists learn to 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.

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.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Political scientists often use qualitative and quantitative research methods. They require analytical skills to 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.

Creativity. 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.

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

Pay

Political Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2018

Political scientists

$117,570

Social scientists and related workers

$78,650

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

The median annual wage for political scientists was $117,570 in May 2018. 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 $59,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $164,200.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $126,060
Professional, scientific, and technical services 114,760
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 81,390
Educational services; state, local, and private 70,430

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 2018-28

Social scientists and related workers

11%

Political scientists

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

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.

Employment projections data for political scientists, 2018-28

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

Occupational Title

Political scientists

SOC Code19-3094
Employment, 20186,200
Projected Employment, 20286,500
Percent Change, 2018-285
Numeric Change, 2018-28300
Employment by IndustryGet data

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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2018 MEDIAN PAY
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Postsecondary teachers

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Sociologists

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Master's degree $82,050
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Master's degree $57,700
Urban and regional planners

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Geographers

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Historians

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Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Political Scientists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm (visited November 03, 2019).

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