The modern day understanding of the word “science” is a form of study that is premised on systematic observation through scientific methods. Scientific learning differs from arts, which do not typically encompass scientific methods of inquiry during learning. At its most basic, politics is defined as the resolution of the struggle to determine who obtains what, when, and how (Lasswell, 1972). Political scientists usually study these struggles, which occur between competing interest groups, in order to formulate general theories or principles that can explain the working of the political world. Whereas political scientists, may often differ and engage in constant debate, they undoubtedly strive to emulate the methodological and conceptual rigor as well as the objectivity that characterizes “hard sciences” such as chemistry and physics. Political scientists opine that their work revolves around the revelation of relationships that underlie political conditions and events and then, with these revelations as the guiding factor, they attempt to formulate general principles relating to the world of politics. Political science research typically entails investigation of causal relationships, quantification of measurements, and generalizability of results, which are the hallmarks of scientific study, and consequently, this essay posits that it may be viewed as a genuine science that can be studied scientifically.
One fundamental characteristic of scientific learning is that it entails the investigation of relationships in an attempt to establish causal relationships between different factors or phenomena. Consideration and evaluation of new evidence is an integral part of any scientific investigation and so is the willingness to change perspectives based on the new evidence. In a scientific approach, the counterbalancing factor of this readiness to consider fresh evidence is a stern evaluation of this new evidence and this is typical of the approach employed in political science. Just like other scientists, scholars in the realm of political science engage in the formulation and testing of theories, which are described as tentative conjectures explaining the causes of certain phenomena (Kellstedt " Whitten, 2013). The formulation of theories is usually followed by their restatement into testable hypotheses, which are the statements constructed by researchers to establish the existence or otherwise of a relationship between various phenomena. A theory only achieves scientific confidence once the hypotheses derived from it have undergone rigorous testing and been proven, based on the existent evidence, to be true and even then, it only holds true until the emergence of new evidence disproving it. For example, in the 1940’s the predominant view among political scientists was that presidential campaigns and especially campaign advertising, had a heavy influence on American voters. However, following a detailed research into public opinion in the presidential election of 1944, it was established that voters’ intentions were largely unaffected by campaign events with subsequent studies confirming this and thus disproving the earlier existent theory (Kellstedt " Whitten, 2013). Thus, just like scientific research in the natural sciences, political research entails the formulation, testing, and refutation of theories thus demonstrating that scientific study in this area is possible.
Another fundamental assumption of scientific methods is that the inquiries conducted will yield results that are quantifiably and conclusively measurable (Bond, 2007). Quantification, which entails mathematization of measurements, is critical to scientific research because it facilitates the systematic recording of observations and the evaluation of reliability. Consequently, quantification is integral to hypotheses testing and to the establishment of relationships in research studies that contain a substantial number of cases. In political science research, quantification has become an increasingly prevalent feature with advocates claiming that it improves the precision of research while enhancing generalizability and reducing subjectivity and prejudice (Kingsley, 2018). However, opponents of this method argue that quantification is impossible in social studies research such as political science because it sacrifices the authenticity and substance of the information obtained. The transformation of social experiences into numerical representations causes alienation while distancing various groups from their experiences (what-when-how, n.d.). Additionally, employing quantification in social science research may fail to make statistical sense because some social entities for example ethnicity and race are flexible and change quite often, and thus the utilization of mathematical measurements in these areas may lead to erroneous judgments and misconceptions (what-when-how, n.d.). Although this is true of some areas in political science research, it has been demonstrated that quantification is possible for many other areas in the same realm. For example, when measuring a concept such as democracy, researchers can employ quantifiable measures such as the freedom and fairness of the country’s elections and the percentage of voter turnouts. The expression of these measures in mathematical terms facilitates an objective measurement and eases comparisons thus making political science research scientific.
Scientific valid research must also possess external validity, which means it should be generalizable to other people or situations (Aronson, et al., 2007). Social science research often struggles with generalizability and this is no different for political scientists. For example, research examining the factors that influence voting attitudes in the USA may be difficult to generalize to another place like Egypt because they have a different culture, which would undoubtedly affect people’s perceptions. However, while some people would use this to argue that politics cannot be scientific, the converse is true because employing solutions such as using surveys where participants anonymity is guaranteed to mirror a secret ballot may help in enhancing generalizability.
Conclusively, it is evident that politics, just like natural sciences, can be subjected to scientific study because it satisfies all the requirements of scientific research. The first such requirement is the investigation of causal relationships through formulation and testing of hypotheses and theories and the evaluation of new evidence, which can affect the validity of the theory. Next, scientific research demands that the results of research be quantifiably and conclusively measurable, which political science research fulfils through the adoption of mathematical measures. Generalizability of research finding is another essential feature of scientific research and whereas this is an area where political science struggles, the application of solutions such as guaranteeing participants anonymity helps to increase generalizability by mirroring actual conditions thus making the research findings objective and accurate.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M. " Fehr, B., 2007. Social Psychology. 4th ed. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education.
Bond, J. R., 2007. The Scientification of the Study of Politics: Some Observations on Behavioral Evolution in Political Science. Journal of Politics, 69(4), pp. 897-907.
Kellstedt, P. M. " Whitten, G. D., 2013. The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kingsley, D., 2018. Quantification and Scientism in Political Science: Domination of Discourse by Experts Presenting Mathematical Models of Reality. Poverty " Public Policy, 10(2), pp. 198-221.
Lasswell, H. D., 1972. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How: With Postscript (1958). 11th ed. New York, NY: P. Smith.
what-when-how, n.d. QUANTIFICATION (Social Science). [Online]
Available at: http://what-when-how.com/social-sciences/quantification-social-science/
[Accessed 14 November 2018].