Political Science Research Methods

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Political science uses several tools to research political trends.
Political science uses several tools to research political trends. (Image: Political science, bilingue anglais chinois image by Bruno Bernier from Fotolia.com)

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, political science is a social science concerned chiefly with the description and analysis of political and especially governmental institutions and processes. Unlike numbers in an equation or elements in a laboratory, people often act unpredictably. Because of this, political science requires a firm research base in order to be valid. Fortunately, there are several research methods that deliver solid and reliable information for political scientists.

Research Design

Like any science, political science endeavors to obtain facts through testing the validity of different hypotheses. Doing this in a timely manner requires a plan of action. In political science research, the primary plan of action is called the research design. The research design defines the parameters of the research, what constants and what variables exist and how the researcher will study this sampling to obtain answers in their research. For example, if a political scientist wants to learn what would urge Californians to vote Democratic in the next election; he would first decide California to be the area of study, decide on a unit of variation (e.g. voter, county, district, etc.) and then decide which methods to use (e.g. statistical analysis, polling, etc.) to determine the answer to the proposed question.

Statistics

Statistics is one of the primary research methods for political scientists. This math, which deals with the collection, interpretation and presentation of data, allows political scientists to use available data on populations and individuals in a specific area to draw conclusions about decisions they will make in the future. In the past, this study was limited to general concepts such as population ethnicities, age groups and voting records; today, the study of statistics can include spending habits, income levels, television viewership and a range of other variables that come together to build a picture of the average personality of a region.

Polling

Understanding how a population is about to act politically requires more than just an understanding of their spending habits and their income levels; because of this, most political scientists will not conclude a study before polling the subject population on the questions they are studying. This is a delicate process, because asking a question in a particular way may affect the answer. In fact, many polls have become untrustworthy as the tool has been co-opted by political operatives to lend credibility to their particular platform. Poll questions should be as neutral as possible while still maintaining their relevancy to the subject matter. When a poll is completed, it can be cross referenced with statistics and other figures to determine the validity of the data gathered.

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