Political science is an examination of the foundation, objectives, and effects of power as it exists between rulers and the ruled. This study of “the state, government and politics” has shaped our society in a way that is hard to describe. Therefore, we’ll let longtime political activist Vermin Supreme put into words what we cannot: “Together my friends, we will ride our ponies into a zombie-powered future.”
Supreme, who won the New Hampshire Libertarian Party’s primary in 2020 on a platform of free ponies, zombie power, and dental hygiene, may seem like an odd choice to illustrate the importance of political science. The type of activism that Supreme practices, however, is legal and even celebrated only because we live in a democracy where political science has shaped society for the better.
Here, we take a look at the ways political science influences our society, focusing on voting rights, democracy, and objectivity. Our current political climate may be divisive, but beyond the impassioned rhetoric lies an opportunity for political scientists to champion policies that make a positive impact on the world around us.
The Right to Vote
The right to vote is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy. Under the U.S. constitution, it is a privilege afforded to every American citizen, but that wasn’t always the case. Women won the right to vote a little over a hundred years ago with the passing of the 19th amendment, and it wasn’t until the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the last of the Jim Crow-era laws preventing many people of color from voting were stricken down.
Today, states are pushing for new restrictions that will make it more difficult for citizens to register and vote. Georgia’s new voting law reduces the number of polling places, places restrictions on mail-in voting, and makes it illegal to offer water to anyone waiting in line to vote. Republicans maintain that these commonsense measures are necessary to prevent voting fraud, while Democrats describe these as voter suppression tactics. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, your choices as an aspiring political scientist may one day influence the voting laws of our country. Of the policy analysts, political consultants, and policy makers who shape our election laws, many got their start as political scientists.
A Flawed Democracy
The U.S. was given a harsh wake-up call in 2017 when the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) demoted the U.S. from a full democracy to a flawed democracy. According to the EIU, the U.S. had been “teetering on the brink of becoming a flawed democracy for several years,” with the final push coming from growing distrust in elected representatives and their political parties. Dropping below the 8.0 threshold for a full democracy, the U.S. was scored on five categories:
- Civil liberties
- Electoral process and pluralism
- Political culture
- Political participation
- The functioning of government
The U.S. has since remained a flawed democracy. Although voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election was the highest in 120 years (improving our country’s political participation score), it wasn’t enough to change the public’s perception of our government.
Debate continues as to how best to hold free and fair U.S. elections, with the “For the People Act” being the latest legislation to center around mail-in ballots, early voting, voting machine standards, felons’ voter rights, restrictions on political contributions, and gerrymandering. Politicians on both sides of the aisle will continue to fight for the future of our invaluable, albeit flawed, democracy.
A Return to Objectivity
“Reality is a pretty frightening thing to confront, especially these days, and more and more reality is presented to the people in this overwhelming fire hose of information,” said Vermin Supreme, summing up the era of “post-truth” we live in. Facts are now frequently cast into doubt, as their interpretations are increasingly predicated upon people’s preexisting political beliefs. In a paper published by Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, researchers concluded that political polarization is due to three factors:
- Political identities centering around two non-overlapping political parties.
- The rise of an alternative media ecosystem promoting their own norms.
- Social media platforms creating new ways to engage with audiences.
To promote a return to objectivity, researchers proposed a knowledge-producing “center” composed of researchers, journalists, and platforms. This center’s main goal would be to generate healthy debate, rather than focus on producing “information.” This raises two questions, however: Who gets to be a part of the center, and who determines its boundaries? Until these questions are answered, it’s up to political scientists to promote opinions and instill trust as they best see fit, whether they’re behind a desk at a news organization or on a bus with their fellow campaign staff.
Pursue Your Political Science Degree at UT Permian Basin
Many of the policies you praise or condemn while doomscrolling are shaped by legislators and professionals with backgrounds in political science. They started out where you are now: searching for a way to rise above their station and translate their political passion into a career. If your goal is to influence the course of political events, your best course of action is to earn a degree in political science.
The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Political Science program that prepares students for careers as journalists, lawyers, lobbyists, and political analysts, among other roles. Courses like International Relations, Presidential Politics, and Public Administration provide a deeper understanding of how government agencies interact with one another, and our online, asynchronous format ensures that students learn at the pace best suited for them. In as little as one year, students graduate with the knowledge needed to begin a new, exciting career in politics.
Interested in exploring political science’s influence on our society? Apply to UT Permian Basin’s online BA in political science program to learn more about our government and your future within it.