Answer: Political communication concerns the creation and exchange of ideas and opinions between citizens, public officials, political institutions, and related entities, such as the media. It includes discourse throughout the political process in local, state, national, and international political systems, as well as how information and rhetoric can be leveraged for political gain or to achieve political goals. Individuals with a bachelor’s and/or a master’s in political communication might work in political consulting, foreign service, market research, public relations, journalism and digital media, community organization, lobbying, political campaigning, or other related fields.

At its most basic, political communication is the dialogue between political organizations (e.g. political parties), political actors (e.g. elected officials), the media, and private citizens. It is an interdisciplinary field that blends the social sciences, strategic communication, and media studies with politics and government. Political communication techniques and strategies allow policy advocates, public relations officers, speechwriters, campaign executives, political consultants, political marketers, elected officials, and other political professionals to create, shape, and distribute messages that can influence the political process. Political messaging can take many forms, including speechwriting, social and online media, television and radio, written laws and regulations, policy proposals, policy studies, interpersonal communication between candidates and prospective voters, press releases, and more.

Additionally, political communication is also a field of research in academia. Professionals in this area study the relationship between the three processes of political communication: production (how messages are developed and transmitted), content (what is contained in each message), and effect (how messages are received and interpreted). For example, political communication scholars might examine how governments justify accessing and recording private citizen’s online personal information (e.g., ISP addresses) as a form of mass communication monitoring, or how social media is blurring the boundaries of private and public communication regarding political beliefs and attitudes. Other potential avenues of inquiry might include the relationship between speeches made by politicians regarding job development or educational system improvements and their influence on certain populations of voters, and the impact of political keywords or key phrases in shaping public sentiment and voting outcomes.

Bachelor’s in Political Communication Programs

For undergraduate students who are interested in how communication and rhetoric influence political outcomes, majoring in political communication can give them insight into communication’s role in multifaceted political processes, while also equipping them with the skills to enter the workforce as a political communicator or to continue on to further studies of political rhetoric and research at the graduate level.

Bachelor’s degrees in political communication cover key concepts in political rhetoric, the history of public discourse, strategic communication, political campaigns, political communication ethics, crisis communication for political situations, and the connections between political rhetoric, social justice and advocacy. Students of these programs may take courses in the history of political communication in the United States and internationally, public discourse, political argumentation and activism, political communication research and analysis, and social media’s role in politics. Some schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in political communication allow students to further specialize in order to focus on the particular area in which they wish to work within the field, such as criminal justice communication, electoral politics, international diplomacy, or social justice advocacy.

Many bachelor’s degrees in political communication require the completion of an internship or an undergraduate capstone (sometimes called a senior project), in order to give students the chance to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned to a real political situation or communication challenge. Programs that require students to fulfill an internship may provide students with connections to possible internship sites and supervisors, or they may require students to find their own internships and apply for program approval once they have selected a site.

The capstone is designed to give students a chance to explore a political communication research question or an applied political communication challenge; as a result, the capstone tends to vary depending on the program and the student’s particular goals and interests. Students who wish to pursue further studies in political communication at the master’s level generally complete a senior thesis as their capstone. A senior thesis is an independent research project that students complete under the supervision and guidance of a faculty mentor. Students who wish to enter the workforce after their bachelor’s degree generally complete a more applied project for a real or hypothetical political organization. Examples of such projects include campaign materials for a political figure or party, a public relations campaign for a government agency, or a local government crisis communication plan.

Master’s in Political Communication Programs

Master’s in political communication programs cover both foundational and advanced concepts, theories, and processes that shape political discourse, giving students a comprehensive understanding of the psychological mechanisms and strategies that govern the creation and dissemination of political messages across different media channels. Master’s degrees in political communication also tend to focus on how political processes, institutions, and platforms operate at different levels of government, and the role that communication plays at these different levels to facilitate policy development and enactment.

While some of the coursework between the bachelor’s and the master’s degree in political communication may overlap, a distinction of the master’s degree is that its coursework is comprised solely of courses devoted to political communication concepts, research methodologies, and tactics. In contrast, the bachelor’s degree in political communication also includes general education requirements and possibly electives unrelated to political communication.

Master’s degrees in political communication therefore give students an opportunity to delve more deeply into political communication as a field of practice and study. Students can expect to develop skills in quantitative analysis of political data (e.g. isolating voter tendencies), qualitative data analysis (e.g. implementing public opinion surveys on local policies), strategic communication techniques (e.g. news, speech, and press release writing), social media strategies (e.g. creating political marketing campaigns), and more.

Coursework in a political communication master’s program generally covers topics across the political spectrum, including campaign management, public opinion research, speechwriting, political media strategies, public affairs and advocacy, media and foreign policy, political ethics and law, public discourse, and statistical analysis. The majority of political communication programs concentrate on applied skill development in political communication and strategy. However, there are programs with a greater educational emphasis on communication research that prepare students to continue their studies at the doctoral level. These types of programs may include coursework that allows students to explore historical partisanship in mainstream newspapers, examine strategic messaging in times of political crisis, consider the credibility of online and cable political news coverage, or apply theories of behavioral psychology to develop new political advertising techniques to sway voter attitudes, to name just a few examples.

For more information about master’s in political communication programs, including example course plans and degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Political Communication Programs page.

Careers in Political Communication

A bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in political communication can lead to potential career opportunities across the political spectrum, in areas such as politics, government, public affairs and public policy, legislative affairs, lobbying, media, political research and analysis, and more. Individuals with undergraduate or graduate training in political communication might pursue careers with legislative think tanks, local-, state-, and national-based political party organizations, political campaigns, media organizations and publishers, non-profits, public relations firms, political consulting agencies, social advocacy groups, or other organizations that work within the political process.

Effective communicators are vital to the political process, helping to contextualize understanding of issues at all levels of discourse. They are central players, who help politicians run for office, develop policies and legislation for the social good, educate the general public on socio-political issues, and promote greater participation in democracy. Career options vary, but here are a few potential career paths graduates of master’s programs in political communication might consider:

  • Campaign Strategist: Campaign strategists use their knowledge of local, state, national, and international politics; the social issues facing different sectors of the American population; effective campaign media; and speech writing to plan and implement political campaign strategies. Campaign strategists might work for a specific politician seeking election, or be employed by a political party, independent non-profit, or for-profit organization to help develop campaign materials for a particular political or social cause.
  • Government Press Secretary: Press secretaries manage public relations for government organizations, including local, state, and federal entities. They develop relationships with journalists and media outlets, as well as write and edit press releases and update news outlets on certain events or political developments that are relevant to the public. Using political communication tactics, they tailor their messaging to the public in order to maintain transparency while also staying consistent with their employers’ desired public image.
  • Political Journalist: Political journalists conduct investigations of social and political issues that are of interest to the public, and write articles on their findings. Their mission is to both inform the public and hold local, state, and federal governments accountable for their actions.
  • Government Communication Director: Communication directors promote the political agendas and craft the public image of organizations that employ them through careful strategies, including speech writing and editing, media campaigns, and collaborations with policy makers to develop announcements of new legislation or government programs.
  • Lobbyist: Working on behalf of multinational corporations, universities, community organizations, or other groups, lobbyists develop relationships with elected officials at the local, state, and national level to promote legislation that is beneficial to their employer’s interests.
  • College Professor: Political communication professors teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses at both four-year universities and community or junior colleges. In addition to working with students, they often conduct original research or write scholarly articles on topics in political communication, with the intent to advance theory or scholarship in the field.

Note: Political communication as both a field of research and a field of practice is incredibly broad and diverse, encompassing not only the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government, but also state and local government agencies, political non-profits, non-governmental organizations, news outlets, and social justice organizations. Due to this diversity within the field, jobs in political communication vary widely. Likewise, employers’ expectations for candidates’ academic and professional experience in political communication varies depending on the employer and the nature of the position. Therefore, while some employers may require or prefer a graduate degree in political communication for some positions, others may accept applications from candidates possessing a bachelor’s degree and several years of relevant experience in lieu of a graduate degree.

Finally, while a master’s degree may not be required to work in government or in industry as a political communication professional, positions that involve research and/or teaching, such as professorships in higher academia, generally require candidates to have at least a master’s (or in many cases a doctoral) degree in political communication or a closely related field.