Summary

political scientists image
Political scientists research policies, trends, and issues.
Quick Facts: Political Scientists
2016 Median Pay $114,290 per year
$54.95 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 7,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 2% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 200

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.

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 $114,290 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, slower than 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 About this section

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 About this section

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 7,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of political scientists were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 48%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 27
Educational services; state, local, and private 7
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 7
Self-employed workers 7

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 About this section

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 About this section

Political Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2016

Political scientists

$114,290

Social scientists and related workers

$75,280

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for political scientists was $114,290 in May 2016. 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 $57,750, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,290.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services $120,610
Federal government, excluding postal service 119,800
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 80,120
Educational services; state, local, and private 50,810

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

Job Outlook About this section

Political Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Social scientists and related workers

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

Political scientists

2%

 

Employment of political scientists is projected to grow 2 percent from 2016 to 2026, slower than 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, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Political scientists

19-3094 7,300 7,400 2 200 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

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 About this section

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Master's degree $63,190
Economists

Economists

Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.

Master's degree $101,050
Market research analysts

Market Research Analysts

Market research analysts study market conditions to examine potential sales of a product or service. They help companies understand what products people want, who will buy them, and at what price.

Bachelor's degree $62,560
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $75,430
Sociologists

Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions, and processes that develop when people interact and work together.

Master's degree $79,750
Survey researchers

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers design and conduct surveys and analyze data. Surveys are used to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions in order to understand people’s opinions, preferences, beliefs, or desires.

Master's degree $54,470
Urban and regional planners

Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.

Master's degree $70,020
Geographers

Geographers

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

Bachelor's degree $74,260
Historians

Historians

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.

Master's degree $55,110
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 22, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What They Do

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Work Environment

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

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2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.