Political scientists study matters concerning the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behaviour and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, peace and public health. Some political scientists seek to advance positive (attempt to describe how things are, as opposed to how they should be) theses by analysing politics. Others advance normative theses, by making specific policy recommendations.
Political scientists provide the frameworks from which journalists, special interest groups, politicians, and the electorate analyse issues. According to Chaturvedy,
Political scientists may serve as advisers to specific politicians, or even run for office as politicians themselves. Political scientists can be found working in governments, in political parties or as civil servants. They may be involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or political movements. In a variety of capacities, people educated and trained in political science can add value and expertise to corporations. Private enterprises such as think tanks, research institutes, polling and public relations firms often employ political scientists.
In the United States, political scientists known as "Americanists" look at a variety of data including constitutional development, elections, public opinion, and public policy such as Social Security reform, foreign policy, US Congressional committees, and the US Supreme Court — to name only a few issues.
Because political science is essentially a study of human behaviour, in all aspects of politics, observations in controlled environments are often challenging to reproduce or duplicate, though experimental methods are increasingly common (see experimental political science). Citing this difficulty, former American Political Science Association President Lawrence Lowell once said "We are limited by the impossibility of experiment. Politics is an observational, not an experimental science." Because of this, political scientists have historically observed political elites, institutions, and individual or group behaviour in order to identify patterns, draw generalizations, and build theories of politics.
Like all social sciences, political science faces the difficulty of observing human actors that can only be partially observed and who have the capacity for making conscious choices unlike other subjects such as non-human organisms in biology or inanimate objects as in physics. Despite the complexities, contemporary political science has progressed by adopting a variety of methods and theoretical approaches to understanding politics and methodological pluralism is a defining feature of contemporary political science.
The advent of political science as a university discipline was marked by the creation of university departments and chairs with the title of political science arising in the late 19th century. In fact, the designation "political scientist" is typically for those with a doctorate in the field, but can also apply to those with a master's in the subject. Integrating political studies of the past into a unified discipline is ongoing, and the history of political science has provided a rich field for the growth of both normative and positive political science, with each part of the discipline sharing some historical predecessors. The American Political Science Association and the American Political Science Review were founded in 1903 and 1906, respectively, in an effort to distinguish the study of politics from economics and other social phenomena. To date, the American Political Science Review is the leading journal in Political Science research.
Behavioural revolution and new institutionalism
In the 1950s and the 1960s, a behavioural revolution stressing the systematic and rigorously scientific study of individual and group behaviour swept the discipline. A focus on studying political behaviour, rather than institutions or interpretation of legal texts, characterized early behavioural political science, including work by Robert Dahl, Philip Converse, and in the collaboration between sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld and public opinion scholar Bernard Berelson.
The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed a take off in the use of deductive, game theoretic formal modelling techniques aimed at generating a more analytical corpus of knowledge in the discipline. This period saw a surge of research that borrowed theory and methods from economics to study political institutions, such as the United States Congress, as well as political behaviour, such as voting. William H. Riker and his colleagues and students at the University of Rochester were the main proponents of this shift.
Despite considerable research progress in the discipline based on all the kinds of scholarship discussed above, it has been observed that progress toward systematic theory has been modest and uneven.
Anticipating of crises
The theory of political transitions, and the methods of their analysis and anticipating of crises, form an important part of political science. Several general indicators of crises and methods were proposed for anticipating critical transitions. Among them, a statistical indicator of crisis, simultaneous increase of variance and correlations in large groups, was proposed for crises anticipation and successfully used in various areas. Its applicability for early diagnosis of political crises was demonstrated by the analysis of the prolonged stress period preceding the 2014 Ukrainian economic and political crisis. There was a simultaneous increase in the total correlation between the 19 major public fears in the Ukrainian society (by about 64%) and also in their statistical dispersion (by 29%) during the pre-crisis years. A feature shared by certain major revolutions is that they were not predicted. The theory of apparent inevitability of crises and revolutions was also developed.
Political science in the Soviet Union
In the Soviet Union, political studies were carried out under the guise of some other disciplines like theory of state and law, area studies, international relations, studies of labor movement, "critique of bourgeois theories", etc. Soviet scholars were represented at the International Political Science Association (IPSA) since 1955 (since 1960 by the Soviet Association of Political and State Studies).
In 1979, the 11th World Congress of IPSA took place in Moscow. Until the late years of the Soviet Union, political science as a field was subjected to tight control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was thus subjected to distrust. Anti-communists accused political scientists of being "false" scientists and of having served the old regime.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, two of the major institutions dealing with political science, the Institute of Contemporary Social Theories and the Institute of International Affairs, were disbanded, and most of their members were left without jobs. These institutes were victims of the first wave of anticommunist opinion and ideological attacks. Today, the Russian Political Science Association unites professional political scientists from all around Russia.
In 2000, the Perestroika Movement in political science was introduced as a reaction against what supporters of the movement called the mathematicization of political science. Those who identified with the movement argued for a plurality of methodologies and approaches in political science and for more relevance of the discipline to those outside of it.
Evolutionary psychology theories argue that humans have evolved a highly developed set of psychological mechanisms for dealing with politics. However, these mechanisms evolved for dealing with the small group politics that characterized the ancestral environment and not the much larger political structures in today's world. This is argued to explain many important features and systematic cognitive biases of current politics.