What is a political scientist?

Savvy in politics, but not interested in becoming a politician? Political science may be the career for you. Combining political concepts and theories with a knack for writing and interpreting data, political scientists are at the forefront of political analysis.

Sound interesting? Here’s a look at a career as a political scientist:

The job description

Political science is the study of governance, complete with analysis of all things politics and policy, including ideology, processes, procedures, behaviors, and public opinion. Political scientists conduct those analyses in regard to government structure and operation, using public opinion surveys, election results, economic data, and public documents to compile the relevant information. From there, they can advise in planning, developing, updating, and implementing current and future policies. Added to that, they use their expertise to evaluate compliance with standards, laws, and regulations and predict social, economic, and political trends.

Many political scientists focus their research efforts on a particular region, population, or areas such as:

  • Comparative politics
  • National politics
  • American politics
  • International relations
  • Political methodology
  • Political theory

When pursuing a political science career, candidates can apply for various careers and job titles, including:

  • Policy Analyst
  • Intelligence Analyst
  • Intelligence Research Analyst
  • Research Scientist
  • Political Consultant
  • Special Agent
  • State-Federal Relations Deputy Officer
  • Internal Regulatory Affairs Specialist
  • Government and Public Affairs Specialist
  • Government and Regulatory Affairs Manager
  • Director of Government Affairs
  • Vice President of International Affairs
  • Global Head of Government Relations

These analytical professionals often work in an office setting where they complete their research, writing, commentating, or consulting. Political scientists are often responsible for completing their work with an unbiased, experienced perspective. As such, their expert opinions in reports and papers are highly valued.

The salary potential

Political scientists can expect to earn salaries of about $115,110, with the BLS reporting a wage range of less than $56,150 to more than $161,890. As with most careers, industry can be largely influential in determining where incomes land within this spectrum. The BLS compiled the average salaries based on the top employers, which were as follows:

  • Federal government, excluding postal service: $123,230
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $118,320
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations: $76,790
  • Educational services (state, local and private): $58,960

Experience can also boost yearly earnings, with over a 50 percent increase in salary once political scientists reach their mid-career point, according to data from PayScale.

The job outlook

The BLS predicted a slow job growth for political scientists, about 3 percent from 2016 to 2026. While this means competition may be fierce, there will still be a need for political scientists to assess government policies in the modern political climate. Plus, political organizations, lobby firms, labor unions, and research and policy institutes will seek highly qualified political scientists to manage legal issues and advocate for certain causes.

As such, those candidates with advanced degrees and experience with researching or implementing public policy will have a strong competitive edge when applying for the limited positions that are available. Specialized knowledge in a particular field may also boost candidate attractiveness to companies in those sectors.

According to the BLS, the largest employer of political scientists is the federal government, where 48 percent of political scientists work. Professional, scientific and technical services also employ a large number of political scientists. However, there is potential for political scientists to pursue careers in educational services, whether at the state, local, or private level, or at organizations with religious, grantmaking, civic, or professional focuses. Some political scientists even find success with self-employment.

The road to political scientist

The journey begins with an undergraduate degree, often in political science, writing, or statistics. While there are positions available at this level of education, most students interested in pursuing a career in the political science field continue on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree. Popular programs include a Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy, and Master of Public Affairs because they cover the core principles of research, statistics, and analysis as they apply to political systems and organizations.

As far as professional experience, internships, volunteer work with clubs, charities, or political organizations, and relevant full-time positions can also accelerate the path to becoming a political scientist.

The online Master of Public Administration program at the University of San Francisco allows you to earn your advanced degree while gaining such pertinent experience. Designed for professionals in the public and nonprofit sectors, the curriculum covers strategic planning, ethical leadership, partnership building, resource management, policy and budget analysis, and effective decision making. With courses like Public Administration as Theory and Practice in the Contemporary Society, Public Policy Analysis, and Program and Policy Evaluation, you can engage with the concepts and skills that will elevate your ability to pursue a career in political science.

The skills for success

Along with enhanced knowledge of the necessary theories and concepts, a master’s degree can hone the vital skills that will make you stand out against your competition. Of course, a strong understanding of law and government comes with the territory, backing up your analysis and evaluations with credibility. This includes knowledge of laws, regulations, legal codes, court procedures, executive orders and various political processes.

Political scientists also utilize strong analytical skills to evaluate and interpret data, especially through qualitative and quantitative research methods. This research at data collection also requires working knowledge of digital tools, including analytical, database management, enterprise resource planning, spreadsheet, and document management software.

Other valuable assets on a political scientist’s resume include:

  • Combined creative and critical thinking skills to draw logical conclusions from data and explore new ways to address political issues.
  • Understanding of historical as well as current political trends, subjects, and systems.
  • Strong writing skills for developing reports.

If you’re ready to start studying political systems and honing your skills to be an influential analyst, reach out to an advisor to learn more about the online Master of Public Administration program at the University of San Francisco.

Recommended Readings:

Career Outlook for MPA Graduates: An Overview

Why an MPA degree?


Online Master of Public Administration by the University of San Francisco

Political Scientist by ONET Online

Political Scientist by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017 for Political Scientists by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Political Scientist Salary by PayScale

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