How to Become a Political Psychologist – Schooling and Career Guide [2024]

What is Political Psychology?

As the name implies, the field of political psychology involves the application of psychological principles to political activities.

Unlike other areas of psychology, it is not concerned with employing therapeutic principles to help people overcome obstacles to improved mental health. Rather, political psychology includes a number of different applications, including the study of human behavior as it relates to political science, voting, political party affiliation, law and government, and public perception of politicians.

Political psychology is also concerned with the decision-making processes and judgments made by politicians themselves and their effect on the populous.

Political psychology is a mixture of a variety of fields – psychology, political science, government, education, economics, business, and communications. As a result, political psychologists work to provide insight into how these real-world processes interact with one another, and how those processes impact political decision-making.

Additionally, political psychologists are interested in the consequences of political behavior, such as how voters perceive the passage of a particular piece of legislation, or how a political scandal impacts public opinion about government and politics.

What Does a Political Psychologist Do?

Political psychologists can serve a wide variety of functions. Some work with media outlets to analyze voter behavior, including why people vote and why they vote the way that they do. They may investigate voter biases, both with regard to political candidates and proposed measures on the ballot.

Other political psychologists work for local, state, or federal agencies to study voter behavior. This might include determining why there is a large amount of voter apathy in some election cycles, or analyzing how different socioeconomic groups align with different political candidates. Much work is also done concerning hot-button issues.

Political psychologists may conduct research with voters, such as determining the root of political beliefs and how they relate to social, cultural, economic, religious, and other sociocultural factors.

A bulk of political psychologists works directly with candidates running for office. In this capacity, the role of the political psychologist is to determine public perception of the candidate for which they work. They might analyze polling data and develop and direct strategies by which the candidate could increase his or her support among voters.

An essential role is to be able to predict with relative accuracy how a candidate’s behavior, mannerisms, communication style, and other factors influence voters.

A political psychologist that works for an already elected official would work closely with a politician’s communications team to help direct the development of talking points and policy decisions that will perform well with his or her constituents.

Studying the diverse internal and external factors that exert influence on a politician is a central role for political psychologists as well. In that regard, political psychologists use their expert knowledge of human behavior in order to evaluate the possible outcomes of a politician’s decisions.

For example, when politicians seek to increase taxes, a political psychologist may be consulted in order to frame the announcement such that it speaks to the innate human need to provide for others, and take focus off the unpopular idea of paying more taxes.

Another area of focus for political psychologists is determining the psychological make-up of politicians and how that make-up influences voter perception.

For example, there is a common perception that politicians are narcissistic. A political psychologist may investigate this claim by administering personality tests to politicians and analyzing the results in order to develop a clearer picture of common personality traits or personality flaws of politicians. This information could then be used to help political psychologists and other members of a politician’s team to develop strategies for improving his or her public image.

What are the Education Requirements for a Political Psychologist?

The first step to a career as a political psychologist is to obtain an undergraduate degree in psychology. Coursework in political science, sociology, and communications would be beneficial at the undergraduate level, in addition to the essential courses in psychology.

With a bachelor’s degree, an individual may be able to find entry-level work, such as working for a political campaign analyzing data, conducting polling, or other low-level tasks.

To have a higher-stakes career in political psychology, one must obtain at least a master’s degree. There are graduate programs, doctoral programs, and certificate programs available all over the United States. Essentially, a graduate program in political psychology focuses on the intersection of psychology and political science.

Common topics of study include social psychology, cognition, decision-making, political beliefs and attitudes, and political ideology. Graduate programs in political psychology tend to have a strong research focus as well, including components of studying voter behavior, the influence of the media on the perception of politicians, and analysis of political decision-making.

Because political psychologists do not provide therapeutic services, there are no licensure requirements. While some graduate schools offer a certificate program in political psychology, there is no national certifying body as one finds with other sub-fields in psychology.

However, in most states, licensure is required to use the title “psychologist”. Requirements for licensure generally include (but not limited to) an APA accredited doctoral degree in psychology, supervised experience under a licensed psychologist, and passing licensure examination (some states may have additional requirements).

What is the Job Outlook for Political Psychology?

As a whole, psychology is a career field with average growth expected over the next five to ten years. However, the field of industrial-organizational psychology is expected to see explosive growth, with a 6% expected positive change by 2032. Since political psychology is closely related to industrial-organizational psychology, one can assume that the demand for political psychologists will be higher than average as well.

Another factor that can drive demand up for political psychologists is that it is a relatively unique field of work. Therefore, there aren’t many qualified applicants for jobs.

The rapid growth of political machines that drive campaigns, as well as the growing influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are also positive signs of growth for psychologists seeking a career in politics.

What is the Salary for a Political Psychologist?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not define political psychology as its own field. Therefore, precise salary information is not available. However, psychologists as a whole make an average of nearly $106,420 per year in the United States, as of May 2023.

Industrial-organizational psychology, which is as closely a related sub-field to political psychology there is, has an average annual salary of $139,280.

One can assume, however, that political psychologists employed by political parties, Political Action Committees (PACs), and political candidates themselves might make significantly more money, particularly during election years. But it is important to note that one’s salary will depend largely on the employment setting and one’s level of education and experience.

Why Do We Need Political Psychology?

Political psychology is the meeting point of political science and psychology, with several other social sciences playing a part. The field is looking to make sense of both the individuals and groups within politics – what motivates them, what affects decision making and how that knowledge can be used for formation of strategy. It looks at this from within nations as well as between nations and cultures.

Political psychology looks at individuals as political leaders. What drives them to do it? What is their background? What is their personality? It is believed that by better understanding leaders and potential leaders as individuals, their actions as a leader can be predicted.

This becomes particularly important when you begin to consider nations in conflict – understanding the effect that the personality of the individual in charge can have on their decision making could be extremely important in strategy, how to interact and planning conflict resolution.

Even if the individuals have been well studied and are well understood, the behavior of a group is more than just a sum of its parts. Understanding the dynamics of a political party looks more towards the psychology of groups as a means to predict their actions. This group psychology is also employed to better understand people committing political acts of violence as terrorist groups.

Finally, political psychology looks towards the public and how they make their political decisions. What motivates them to vote? How is the ‘public opinion’ is formed? How does the public make political decisions? The role of the media is often considered here. By understanding these factors, we can know more about the public perception and how to instigate change.

Political psychology forces us to consider all of these factors in greater detail. Political decision making will always be a complex area but political psychology is helping guide these most important of decisions.

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