If you don't become a politician, what can be gained by studying politics?

It may be something which is an interesting point of study, but apart from that is studying politics really any good? What can it really get you, or what can you really do to effect a change in the world if you were to want to?

Apart from freak cases (not to say bad cases) such as Martin Luther King Jr., how much power does the ‘average Joe’ have?

(And yes, if this question seems ignorant I can’t disagree. I didn’t do very well in History class and don’t remember a lot of the specifics. I haven’t made it a special area of study either, and I don’t watch the news pretty much ever. I only have briefly touched on politics without going into depth. If there is an obvious to answer to this hidden in one of those subjects I am unaware. It just seems though from my perspective that I wouldn’t be able to do much with politics even if I want to learn about it. Thoughts?)

It’s essential for citizens to know the basics of how all this stuff works to make as informed a vote as possible. Politicians are a slippery lot. They have all sorts of ways to hide what they are doing from your sight, or make you think you’re seeing a cake when you’re actually looking at a pile of maggots.

Adaher, thanks for the reply. Not to sound blunt but the likelyhood that anyone’s particular vote matters is unlikely. I suppose though that you could blog about this stuff, but there’s probably so many people doing that I would guess you are just repeating what they are saying to where 2 people saying the same thing won’t necessarily cause enough of a meaningful impact. Perhaps it could though, I’m not sure…

More generally, politics (as opposed to government or statecraft) is the study of how people decide how to vote and how people are elected into office. It’s certainly valuable if you’re interested in running for office, managing a lobbying group, or directly influencing the political process otherwise. Even if you’re not, though, it considers things like how primaries affect the choice of candidates, how interests turn influence into votes into political influence and vice versa, how the invisible primaries and other influences shape the process far before there’s anything for people to actually vote on, etc. I guess it’s an important subject for the same reason that history is an important subject even if you’re not making history yourself.

Honestly, though, if you’re just interested in making an informed vote once every two or four years, politics probably isn’t a major priority for you. (And if studying politics were required for making an informed vote, then your vote would be drowned out anyway by the much larger population who haven’t studied it.) Besides, if your goal is to make the most informed vote possible, I’d personally recommend instead studying statistics, history, law, etc.

I have a friend who studied International Politics, mostly because she found it interesting. She now teaches English in Korea. I’m not sure if that’s a stepping stone for another job in Korea or what, but I think studying international politics gives one a better perspective of the world in general and the ability to understand that there is a world outside of the US.

In terms of studying American politics, it can help one become a more educated citizen and voter. Maybe instead of being a politician someone could work for a public policy group or some other government organization and having a background in political science could help with that.

ETA: And it’s not always likely, but I think votes do count, especially in very close races. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, barely squeaked out a win with something like 40,000 votes. The Democratic candidate for attorney general won by something like a few thousand votes. The outcome of that election would have been very different if a bunch of Democrats had decided, “What’s the point, my vote doesn’t count.”

You can use that degree as part of an education to teach politics or write (in a journalistic sense) about politics.

Just as the outcome of the 2000 presidential election would have been very different if a bunch of Democrats (particularly in Florida) had decided, “My vote DOES count and therefore I won’t waste it on Nader”. – (This aside from all the mal-designed ballots there, which is also a case for political study.)

Politics is about how people react and make decisions, how to influence and manipulate people, how to get your way in a dispute and the benefits of negotiation and compromise. It is applied social psychology and history.

If you ever get to (have to?) work in corporate America, you will quickly learn that half of your job is politics. If you want to get anything done or move up the ranks, you’ve got to know how to make allies, how to manipulate people, and how to defeat your enemies.

Young college graduates come into the corporate workplace thinking that they have the ideas and talent to revolutionize the company or its products. They are shocked when their ideas go nowhere, when their cow-orkers don’t want to be bothered, when the manager in the other department who has a lot of buddies steals the funding for their work.

You’ll find a lot of political gamesmanship in almost any organization of people. If you have some understanding of how it works, you can put it to good use.

Please, I’m not saying that a degree in Political Science will get you a job in accounting or IT, but some understanding of political dynamics will work in your favor.

It’s also about understanding the nuts and bolts of democratic (and non democratic) processes. IMHO, essential knowledge for anybody who has ever, or will ever vote in an election…any time and any where!

I don’t know the background of pollies in the US, but few politicians in Australia ever majored in politics. Here it’s not an ‘applied’ subject, but as Alley Dweller mentioned, it covers the gamut of social, economic, philosophical and historical knowledge. Most politicians have business or legal backgrounds, some never having attended university at all.

IOW, those who study politics (especially as majors) end up teaching, in public policy, advertising or television commentators. They don’t become politicians.

This is the much more useful aspect of politics. A wise man once told me that politics is the art of getting people to let you manipulate them. But is this angle of politics actually taught in higher education?

There are lots of politics related jobs apart from being an actual politician. For one thing there are all the staff that back up politicians (from National down to city level) and help them get elected and assist them in doing their jobs when they have been. There are all sorts of lobbyists and the like, mediating between industry and various other interest groups and actual politicians. And again, people in the higher reaches of a civil service (again, not only at National level, but also at city level and all levels in between) have to be savvy about politics to get their jobs done.

The whole point of politics is to learn the answers to the questions you’re asking. After all, every one is just a single person. Politics is how one single person can organize a group of people to do something none of them could have done as individuals.

Politics is a multi-billion dollar a year industry in the US (I assume it is a significant industry in other countries but I don’t know that). If it is a field that interests you, I am sure there are many jobs in the business. That would be one practical reason to study politics-with subfields of advertising, marketing, market statistics, communications, management…

That’s also true of private business and sports and religion.

Do many people study “politics?” I know of majors in political science, public policy, international relations and governance, but I don’t think that “politics” in the sense of elections is a common subject of study.

For the wider field, there are all kinds of jobs, and barring that, political science is a common stepping stone to law school pro ther grad program.

Absolutely. Politics is a factor in any group activity. Even if it’s just ordering a pizza.

Yup. I’m finishing a PolSci BA, and if I’m accepted into the program, I plan to become a Social Studies/Civics teacher

Economics too. Political science and economics actually go hand-in-hand and apply to a lot more than just what goes on in government.

Thank you all for your posts.

I think I should mention: when I refer to politics, I am not referring to politics as it is applied to general hierarchies (such as work or getting along with neighbors). I meant politics in terms of understanding political systems (socialism, anarchy, communism, democracy, republic, etc.) how their effectiveness rates in terms of theory as well as history. That is more what I am gunning for, although I don’t know the more specific word for that.

Also, I didn’t mean majoring in politics (although I may be interested in a course or two), I just mean personal study for my own understanding.

By the way, as far as answering my own question, one of the things I can do it seems like is to be an activist, or start a blog talking about these to effect a governmental change to the positive. At least in the elections which are closer this might make an impact. Or I can “read the times” and see if there are any parallels for unwanted things coming (perhaps knowing if ‘1989’ is coming, a lesser police state, or other things such as this). Knowing where governmental policies are leading can help with self-protection in this area (knowing if its a good idea to move mainly, perhaps also letting others know about this via the internet or something).

You don’t study politics, you study political sciences. And it doesn’t have much to do with the workings of politics, but rather with the workings of the state. It includes things like constitutional theory, law, macro-economics, administrative organization, public finances, foreign relations, etc…

It certainly might be important for a politician, but equally so, and possibly even more so, for a civil servant or a journalist. In fact for anybody who needs to understand how the state is organized and run, how things are done and why they’re done this way.

It won’t teach you, though, how to effect a change in the world, nor will it train you to become a politician. It might turn you into an acceptably informed technocrat, at best.