Political Science Vs. International Relations: What’S The Difference?

Though closely linked, political science and international relations approach the study of government and politics in distinct ways. If you’re pressed for time, here’s the key contrast: political science focuses on national politics and systems, while international relations spotlights how countries interact.

This guide will compare the two disciplines across concepts, coursework, careers, and more.

We’ll analyze the core differences between political science and international relations majors. You’ll learn how each field trains students to understand political behavior, institutions, and processes from different perspectives.

By weighing their respective focus areas, methods, and real-world applications, you’ll gain insight into which program aligns with your talents and interests.

Core Concepts and Theories

Political Science: Democracy, Public Policy, Political Parties

In the field of Political Science, there are several core concepts and theories that are studied and analyzed. One of the main areas of focus is democracy, which examines the different forms of government and the principles of representation and participation.

Political scientists explore how democracies function, the role of elections, and the relationship between citizens and the government.

Another important concept within Political Science is public policy. This involves studying how governments make decisions and implement actions to address societal issues. Political scientists analyze the policy-making process, including the role of interest groups, lobbying, and the impact of public opinion.

Political parties are also a key area of study in Political Science. Researchers examine the formation, organization, and behavior of political parties, as well as their role in shaping public opinion and influencing the political landscape.

Understanding the dynamics and ideologies of political parties is crucial in comprehending the functioning of democratic systems.

International Relations: Diplomacy, Alliances, Global Governance

International Relations is a discipline that focuses on the interactions between nations and the global community. Diplomacy is a crucial concept within this field, as it involves the negotiation and management of relationships between countries.

Diplomats play a vital role in representing their respective nations and working towards peaceful resolutions of conflicts.

Alliances are another key aspect of International Relations. Countries often form alliances with one another to strengthen their collective security, promote economic cooperation, or pursue common political goals.

These alliances can have a significant impact on global affairs and shape the balance of power in international relations.

Global governance is a concept that examines how nations and international organizations work together to address global challenges and promote cooperation. It involves the study of international institutions, such as the United Nations, and their role in facilitating diplomacy, promoting human rights, and addressing issues such as climate change and global health.

For more in-depth information on Political Science and International Relations, you can visit www.politicalscience.org and www.isanet.org.

Research Methods and Skills

Political Science: Statistics, Surveys, Domestic Field Studies

In the field of political science, researchers rely on a variety of research methods to gather and analyze data. One of the key skills in political science is the ability to work with statistics. Political scientists often use quantitative data to study patterns, trends, and correlations in political behavior and decision-making.

By analyzing statistical data, they can identify patterns and make predictions about political outcomes.

Surveys are another important research method used in political science. Researchers design surveys to gather information from a sample of the population, allowing them to gain insights into public opinion, voting behavior, and political attitudes.

Surveys can provide valuable data that helps political scientists understand the preferences and motivations of citizens.

Additionally, political scientists often conduct domestic field studies to gather firsthand information about specific political phenomena. They might observe political rallies, attend public hearings, or conduct interviews with key stakeholders.

These field studies provide researchers with a deeper understanding of the dynamics and complexities of domestic politics.

International Relations: Foreign Language, Cultural Studies, Global Modeling

In the field of international relations, research methods focus on understanding the complex interactions between nations and global actors. One important skill in international relations is proficiency in foreign languages.

By being able to read and understand primary sources in different languages, researchers can access a wider range of information and perspectives.

Cultural studies also play a significant role in international relations research. Understanding the cultural context of different countries is crucial for comprehending their political systems, values, and decision-making processes.

By studying cultural aspects, researchers can gain insights into the factors that shape international relations.

Global modeling is another research method used in international relations. This involves creating mathematical models and simulations to analyze global trends and predict future outcomes. By using these models, researchers can explore different scenarios and identify potential consequences of policy decisions or geopolitical events.

Both political science and international relations require a strong foundation in research methods and skills. While political science emphasizes statistics, surveys, and domestic field studies, international relations focuses on foreign language proficiency, cultural studies, and global modeling.

By mastering these research methods, scholars in both fields can contribute to a deeper understanding of politics and international affairs.

Career Pathways

Political Science: Local Government, Think Tanks, Interest Groups

Political science graduates have a wide range of career opportunities, with one of the most common paths being in local government. They can work as policy analysts, legislative aides, or campaign managers for local politicians.

These roles involve analyzing political trends, developing policies, and implementing strategies to address local issues. Political scientists can also find employment in think tanks, where they conduct research and provide policy recommendations to government officials and other stakeholders.

Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation are well-known for their influential work in shaping public policy.

Another promising career pathway for political science graduates is in interest groups. These organizations advocate for specific causes or issues and often hire political scientists to help them navigate the political landscape.

Whether it’s lobbying for environmental regulations or fighting for civil rights, political science professionals play a crucial role in advancing the goals of these interest groups.

International Relations: Foreign Service, IOs, Global Nonprofits

International relations graduates often pursue careers in the foreign service, working for their country’s diplomatic corps. These professionals represent their country’s interests abroad, negotiate treaties, and promote international cooperation.

They may work as diplomats in embassies or serve as political officers analyzing political developments in other countries. The U.S. Department of State and the United Nations are prominent employers of international relations graduates.

Another career pathway in international relations is working for international organizations (IOs) such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or the United Nations. These organizations tackle global issues such as poverty, economic development, and peacekeeping.

International relations professionals play pivotal roles in formulating policies, conducting research, and implementing programs to address these challenges.

Furthermore, many international relations graduates find fulfilling careers in global nonprofits. Organizations like Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders provide assistance and advocate for human rights and humanitarian causes worldwide.

International relations professionals in these organizations work on projects ranging from refugee assistance to public health initiatives, making a positive impact on the lives of people around the globe.

Notable Figures

Famous Political Scientists

Political science has been shaped by numerous influential figures throughout history. These individuals have made significant contributions to our understanding of political systems, governance, and public policy. One such figure is Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian Renaissance political philosopher.

Machiavelli’s seminal work, “The Prince,” continues to be studied and debated today for its exploration of political power and leadership.

Another notable political scientist is Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher who is best known for his book, “Leviathan.” Hobbes’ work examined the concept of the social contract and the role of government in maintaining order and stability.

His ideas on the necessity of a strong central authority have had a lasting impact on political thought.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker, is also a prominent figure in the field. His book, “Democracy in America,” provides a comprehensive analysis of the American political system and society.

Tocqueville’s observations on the strengths and weaknesses of democracy continue to be highly regarded.

Other notable political scientists include John Locke, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. Each of these figures has contributed unique perspectives and theories to the field of political science, enriching our understanding of politics and governance.

Leading International Relations Scholars

International relations, on the other hand, has its own set of distinguished scholars who have significantly shaped the field. These individuals have focused on analyzing the interactions between states, non-state actors, and international organizations.

Hans Morgenthau, a German-born American political scientist, is considered one of the founding figures of international relations theory. His work, “Politics Among Nations,” established the realist school of thought, emphasizing the role of power and national interest in international relations.Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, is known for his concept of “soft power.” Nye argues that a country’s influence is not solely determined by its military or economic strength, but also by its ability to shape the preferences and behavior of others through attraction and persuasion.Robert Keohane and J. S. Mill are other influential figures in the field of international relations. Keohane’s work on neoliberal institutionalism has shed light on the role of international institutions in shaping cooperation among states.

Mill, on the other hand, is known for his ideas on liberalism and international cooperation.

These notable figures, among many others, have contributed to the development of political science and international relations as distinct academic disciplines. Their work continues to inspire scholars and students alike, shaping the way we understand and navigate the complex world of politics and global affairs.

Choosing the Right Program

When it comes to studying the intricacies of global politics and understanding the complexities of international relations, two fields often come to mind: Political Science and International Relations.

While these two disciplines are closely related, they also have distinct differences that may influence your decision when choosing a program of study.

When Political Science is a Better Fit

If you have a keen interest in understanding the domestic political landscape of a country, including its institutions, policies, and processes, then Political Science may be the right fit for you. Political Science focuses on the study of government structures, political ideologies, and the behavior of individuals and groups within a country’s political system.

It delves into topics such as comparative politics, political theory, and public administration.

Political Science programs typically offer a broader scope of study, allowing students to explore various aspects of politics, law, economics, and social issues. This multidisciplinary approach provides a well-rounded understanding of how politics shape societies and influences policy-making.

When International Relations is a Better Fit

If your interest lies more in the realm of global politics, diplomacy, and the interactions between nations, then International Relations might be the better choice for you. International Relations focuses on the study of global issues, such as international law, conflict resolution, and foreign policy.

International Relations programs often emphasize the analysis of global trends, international organizations, and the impact of globalization on political dynamics. Students in this field gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of international cooperation and conflict, as well as the role of non-state actors in global affairs.

It is worth noting that Political Science and International Relations are closely interconnected, and many universities offer overlapping courses or even combined programs that allow students to explore both fields.

This can be a great option if you have a broader interest in both domestic and international politics.

Ultimately, the choice between Political Science and International Relations will depend on your specific interests and career goals. Consider what aspects of politics intrigue you the most and explore the course offerings and faculty expertise at different universities.

Talking to current students or professionals in the field can also provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.


While political science and international relations take distinct approaches, both fields equip students to dissect complex political issues and processes. By weighing the core emphases of each program, you can determine which discipline matches your academic interests and professional aspirations.

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