Question Godwin Politics & International Relations

Is Politics a Science?

To what extent is politics a science?

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Answer Expert #13630

Politics is both a real-world phenomenon and an academic discipline. In some academic institutions, it is called “Political Science” but there is a debate about whether politics is a real science in the sense that physics and chemistry are sciences. Political researchers use many of the same methods that natural scientists use, such as measuring things, gathering data and comparing statistics, but they are rarely able to use rigorous experiments where all the variables are carefully controlled (Axford and Browning, 2002, p. 7). This is because politics deals with human behaviour, often at the level of groups, political parties, countries and alliances. The data it uses are social, dynamic and subject to a huge range of contextual factors.

A key method in politics is the case study, for example. Cases have unique aspects as well as comparable aspects, and many issues that arise in a case study are open to different interpretations using a variety of theories and approaches. Researchers in politics study underlying patterns and rules across countries and throughout history, as well as the unique features of situations as they develop (Leftwich, 2004, p. 16). A wide range of different kinds of information is used, including demographic and economic data, published and private printed material, interviews and observation of media sources, where these are available. Academic rigour is brought to the subject through a clear definition of the methods that are chosen, and a careful attention to detail in referencing all the sources. The reasoning behind any conclusions is also explained. This huge complexity leads some people to think that politics is not scientific, but in fact politics can be defined as a social science.


Axford, B. and Browning G. K. (2002) Introduction. In Axford, B., Browning, G. K., Huggins, R., Rosamond, B. and Turner J. (Eds), Politics: An Introduction. Second edition. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1-14.

Leftwich, A. (2004) Thinking politically: On the politics of politics. In A. Leftwich (Ed.), What is Politics? The Activity and its Study. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 1-22.