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Introduction to Political Science

1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics

Introduction to Political Science1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics

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Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. Introduction to Political Science
    1. 1 What Is Politics and What Is Political Science?
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 Defining Politics: Who Gets What, When, Where, How, and Why?
      3. 1.2 Public Policy, Public Interest, and Power
      4. 1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics
      5. 1.4 Normative Political Science
      6. 1.5 Empirical Political Science
      7. 1.6 Individuals, Groups, Institutions, and International Relations
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  3. Individuals
    1. 2 Political Behavior Is Human Behavior
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 What Goals Should We Seek in Politics?
      3. 2.2 Why Do Humans Make the Political Choices That They Do?
      4. 2.3 Human Behavior Is Partially Predictable
      5. 2.4 The Importance of Context for Political Decisions
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 3 Political Ideology
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies
      3. 3.2 The Laws of Nature and the Social Contract
      4. 3.3 The Development of Varieties of Liberalism
      5. 3.4 Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism
      6. 3.5 Contemporary Democratic Liberalism
      7. 3.6 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Left
      8. 3.7 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Right
      9. 3.8 Political Ideologies That Reject Political Ideology: Scientific Socialism, Burkeanism, and Religious Extremism
      10. Summary
      11. Key Terms
      12. Review Questions
      13. Suggested Readings
    3. 4 Civil Liberties
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 The Freedom of the Individual
      3. 4.2 Constitutions and Individual Liberties
      4. 4.3 The Right to Privacy, Self-Determination, and the Freedom of Ideas
      5. 4.4 Freedom of Movement
      6. 4.5 The Rights of the Accused
      7. 4.6 The Right to a Healthy Environment
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 5 Political Participation and Public Opinion
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 What Is Political Participation?
      3. 5.2 What Limits Voter Participation in the United States?
      4. 5.3 How Do Individuals Participate Other Than Voting?
      5. 5.4 What Is Public Opinion and Where Does It Come From?
      6. 5.5 How Do We Measure Public Opinion?
      7. 5.6 Why Is Public Opinion Important?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  4. Groups
    1. 6 The Fundamentals of Group Political Activity
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Political Socialization: The Ways People Become Political
      3. 6.2 Political Culture: How People Express Their Political Identity
      4. 6.3 Collective Dilemmas: Making Group Decisions
      5. 6.4 Collective Action Problems: The Problem of Incentives
      6. 6.5 Resolving Collective Action Problems
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    2. 7 Civil Rights
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Civil Rights and Constitutionalism
      3. 7.2 Political Culture and Majority-Minority Relations
      4. 7.3 Civil Rights Abuses
      5. 7.4 Civil Rights Movements
      6. 7.5 How Do Governments Bring About Civil Rights Change?
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    3. 8 Interest Groups, Political Parties, and Elections
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 What Is an Interest Group?
      3. 8.2 What Are the Pros and Cons of Interest Groups?
      4. 8.3 Political Parties
      5. 8.4 What Are the Limits of Parties?
      6. 8.5 What Are Elections and Who Participates?
      7. 8.6 How Do People Participate in Elections?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  5. Institutions
    1. 9 Legislatures
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 What Do Legislatures Do?
      3. 9.2 What Is the Difference between Parliamentary and Presidential Systems?
      4. 9.3 What Is the Difference between Unicameral and Bicameral Systems?
      5. 9.4 The Decline of Legislative Influence
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 10 Executives, Cabinets, and Bureaucracies
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Democracies: Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Regimes
      3. 10.2 The Executive in Presidential Regimes
      4. 10.3 The Executive in Parliamentary Regimes
      5. 10.4 Advantages, Disadvantages, and Challenges of Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes
      6. 10.5 Semi-Presidential Regimes
      7. 10.6 How Do Cabinets Function in Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes?
      8. 10.7 What Are the Purpose and Function of Bureaucracies?
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 11 Courts and Law
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 What Is the Judiciary?
      3. 11.2 How Does the Judiciary Take Action?
      4. 11.3 Types of Legal Systems around the World
      5. 11.4 Criminal versus Civil Laws
      6. 11.5 Due Process and Judicial Fairness
      7. 11.6 Judicial Review versus Executive Sovereignty
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 12 The Media
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 The Media as a Political Institution: Why Does It Matter?
      3. 12.2 Types of Media and the Changing Media Landscape
      4. 12.3 How Do Media and Elections Interact?
      5. 12.4 The Internet and Social Media
      6. 12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
  6. States and International Relations
    1. 13 Governing Regimes
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Contemporary Government Regimes: Power, Legitimacy, and Authority
      3. 13.2 Categorizing Contemporary Regimes
      4. 13.3 Recent Trends: Illiberal Representative Regimes
      5. Summary
      6. Key Terms
      7. Review Questions
      8. Suggested Readings
    2. 14 International Relations
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 What Is Power, and How Do We Measure It?
      3. 14.2 Understanding the Different Types of Actors in the International System
      4. 14.3 Sovereignty and Anarchy
      5. 14.4 Using Levels of Analysis to Understand Conflict
      6. 14.5 The Realist Worldview
      7. 14.6 The Liberal and Social Worldview
      8. 14.7 Critical Worldviews
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 15 International Law and International Organizations
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 The Problem of Global Governance
      3. 15.2 International Law
      4. 15.3 The United Nations and Global Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
      5. 15.4 How Do Regional IGOs Contribute to Global Governance?
      6. 15.5 Non-state Actors: Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
      7. 15.6 Non-state Actors beyond NGOs
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 16 International Political Economy
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 The Origins of International Political Economy
      3. 16.2 The Advent of the Liberal Economy
      4. 16.3 The Bretton Woods Institutions
      5. 16.4 The Post–Cold War Period and Modernization Theory
      6. 16.5 From the 1990s to the 2020s: Current Issues in IPE
      7. 16.6 Considering Poverty, Inequality, and the Environmental Crisis
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  7. References
  8. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define political science.
  • Describe the scientific study of politics.

The systematic study of the process of who gets what, when, and how—political science—investigates the reasons behind the decisions governments make. For example, political scientists investigate the degree of control governments choose to exercise over various forms of communication, like your smartphone. Political scientists examine both the ways individuals and groups seek to influence governmental action and the ways governmental decisions in turn affect individuals and groups.

Political scientists may not have lab coats or electron microscopes, but like other types of scientists, they use theory, logic, and evidence in an attempt to answer questions, to make predictions, or to arrive at conclusions. Some political scientists strive to understand the fundamental laws of politics in much the same way theoretical physicists seek to comprehend the cosmos for pure knowledge. These political scientists try to uncover the universal principles of how humans and their institutions aim to prevail in political conflicts. But most political scientists accept that human behavior is not entirely deterministic (that is, perfectly predictable), so they instead look for patterns that may enable them to predict in general how humans and their institutions interact.

Video

What Logic Brings Palestinian and Israeli Women Together to March for Peace?

When women on both sides of the conflict in Israel grew weary of its human consequences, they decided to take matters into their own hands in 2017. In human societies, there are many sources of and paths to political conflict and its resolution.

Other political scientists are more like chemists, who may use their knowledge to develop and improve medicines or create more deadly toxins. These political scientists aspire to improve the institutions or processes of government.

Some uses of political science are not so benign. Motivated actors can and have used political science knowledge to manipulate voters and suppress vulnerable populations. When people understand how political science works, they are less susceptible to such manipulation and suppression.

So what is scientific about politics?

One way to think about whether politics is “scientific” is to focus on the content of politics. Does political behavior follow general laws—that is, does it align with universal statements about nature, based on empirical observations? Does politics have the equivalent of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion (for example, Newton’s second law is “force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration,” and his third law is “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”)? Not precisely, although political scientists have at times claimed that such laws exist.

The sticking point is the word “universal.” Force always equals mass multiplied by acceleration. To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. In politics, it seems, virtually nothing is always the case. If one defines science as a body of universal laws about an unchanging universe, then politics is not and cannot be a science. Politics is not the same as physics. Empirical political science seeks to identify regularities—what is likely to happen given certain conditions.

Political science is probabilistic rather than deterministic. An event is deterministic if it is possible to say, “If this happens, that will happen.” Events are probabilistic if one can say only, “If this happens, that is likely to happen.” The sun coming up in the east? Deterministic. Will it rain in the morning? Probabilistic. Will incumbents win their next bid for reelection? Political science gives us the ability to estimate the probability that they will win (again, given the rules, the reality, and the choices those incumbents make).

So science does not require universal laws that explain an unchanging universe. What science does require is a way to learn about the world around us: this way is the scientific method. The scientific method seeks to understand the world by testing hypotheses (for example “The world is round”) by systematically collecting data sufficient to test that hypothesis and by making these hypotheses and data available to others so that your work can be challenged or verified. Political science uses the scientific method to understand the political world; political science carefully and methodically uses logic and evidence to find the answers to political questions.

A hypothesis is a tentative statement about reality that can be tested to determine whether it is true or false—or, in practice, supported or unsupported based on the evidence. “A candidate’s ethnicity influences the likelihood that they will be elected” is an example of a hypothesis: ethnicity either does or does not influence election outcomes. An important task of the political scientist is to determine whether the evidence supports the hypothesis that they test.

Video

Neil Degrasse Tyson: Analogy for the Scientific Method

In this video clip, astrophysicist and author Neil Degrasse Tyson relates a humorous anecdote about an everyday experience in a coffee shop that illustrates the basic principles of the scientific method.

The answers scientists find are always tentative, or uncertain. A hypothesis is supported rather than true or unsupported rather than false. Additional research may yield different answers as theories or methods improve or better data emerges, but also because political behavior itself can change in response to what people learn about it. The knowledge, for example, that politicians are likely to act in a certain way given certain circumstances might lead politicians to change their behavior if they believe that doing so will gain them an advantage. The specific knowledge (“politicians in this situation will behave in that way”) may become obsolete even if a broader general principle (“politicians will act strategically to advance their goals”) still appears to be true.

There are two main, interrelated types of political science: normative political science (also called political philosophy or political theory) and empirical political science.

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