Put most simply, political science is the study of politics, government, and public policy, both in the U.S. and around the world. Political scientists seek to both describe and explain political phenomena. This includes study of the processes of government (the classic example is “how a bill becomes a law”), study of the institutions of government (e.g., the presidency, Congress, etc.), as well as study of the behavior of the people in government (both elected officials and government workers) and the study of how citizens interact with their government (e.g., why don’t more people vote?). Political scientists seek to understand the underlying ways in which power, authority, rules, constitutions, and laws affect our lives. Like other social sciences, political science focuses on human behavior, both individually and collectively.
Although the study of politics and power is ancient, the discipline of political science is relatively new. Like other social sciences, political science uses a “scientific” approach, meaning that political scientists approach their study in an objective, rational, and systematic manner. Some political scientists focus on abstract and theoretical questions, while others study particular government policies and their effects.
Political scientists focus upon political systems, including the effect of environment on the system, inputs, the decision-making agencies which render binding public policies, and system outputs. Approaches to the study of government and politics include the normative approach, in which philosophical attention centers on values by asking the question “What ought to be?” and the behavioral approach, in which an attempt is made to develop verifiable theories through scientific methods by asking the questions “How?” and “Why?”
Political science has gotten a bad rap. Many people wrongly assume that political science is boring and has nothing to do with them. On the contrary, government and politics affect everyone’s lives on a daily basis, and, once you’re familiar with a few basics and a few key characters, the study of politics is as interesting and addictive as a soap opera, and watching the process unfold is not unlike watching a football game.
Most colleges and universities include political science courses in their liberal studies requirements precisely because an understanding of government and politics is so important. Political science courses are not only excellent preparation for employment, but they better enable people to be informed and active citizens in their community.
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