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Clear and persuasive communication is an essential part of government operations, policy making, political advocacy, and social change. From political campaigning to developing policies and educating the community about public affairs, political communication is one of the foundations of our society and how many of its important systems function, including the justice, education, and health care systems. In addition, the academic study of political communication, including the examination of political campaigns, social media’s impact on voting patterns, and advocacy regarding environmental and public health issues, helps us to understand how communication affects people’s behavior at the individual, community, national, and global levels.
Typically master’s in political communication programs prepare students to understand and engage with various types of political and/or governmental communication, and tend to include courses that apply communication theories and research principles to political communication strategies. However, some programs focus more on the study of political communication as a field of social scientific research to prepare students for careers in academia/research or political communication pedagogy.
Most master’s in communication programs with a concentration in political communication prepare individuals to create, evaluate, and curate different types of political communication, including but not limited to campaign speeches and media, political news, public policy research and writing, and advocacy for different social and political causes. Some master’s in political communication programs are geared towards people who wish to become scholars in the field, and who wish to conduct research in areas such as political discourse, the science and theory of persuasion in political contexts, and the effects of political communication on political systems, community mobilization, and more. Depending on their chosen specialization, students of master’s programs in political communication are prepared for advanced careers in policy development, government operations, campaigning, public affairs, and public policy, as well as research and pedagogical positions at universities and research centers.
Curriculum Details for Master’s in Communication Programs with a Specialization in Political Communication
Classes for master’s in communication programs typically begin with a core set of courses that cover the fundamentals of strategic communication, communication theory, persuasive rhetoric, ethics in communication, and research in communication. Detailed descriptions of these and other core courses are available on our Masters in Communication Specializations page.
After completing their core curriculum, students of political communication programs generally need to complete certain concentration courses. Courses specific to political communication typically cover topics such as American policy and government, methods of enacting social change, campaign communication, crisis communication, speech writing, and public policy. Students may also have the option of choosing a few elective classes to take from within or without their department. Examples of concentration courses for programs in political communication may include:
- The American Government: The American political system and how it functions, including how the legislative, executive, and judicial branches operate within the framework of the American constitution. Fundamental civil rights and liberties, the formation and implementation of domestic and foreign policies, and how the public is educated about these policies and other social and political issues.
- Theories and Methods of Campaign Management: The principles of running effective political campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels. Campaign techniques, such as media production strategies, polling, fundraising, election analysis, and speech writing.
- Crisis Management and Communication: The fundamentals of crisis management and communication, including communication of risk, and media relations management. How crises and their management impact public opinions, and how to handle controversies in the news and social media discussions.
- Law and Ethics for Political Communication: The laws that impact what communication professionals can say, and how they say it. Students learn about privacy, copyright, trademarks, libel and slander, fair use regulations, and other legal issues relevant to politics and campaigns, as well as how digital technologies and social media have changed communication ethics and regulations.
- Public Policy Management and Advocating for Social Change: How organizations such as non-profit associations, grassroots organizations, think tanks, and private lobbying organizations enact public policy changes through strategic communication to target audiences in the community and amongst legislators. How to design and implement public policy campaigns and advocacy efforts.
- Political Communication Practicum: For this practicum course, students identify a political organization or individual who is in need of communication-related support or guidance and subsequently work on a project that meets these needs. Students create and submit a proposal that explains the desired outcomes of their project, develop a final portfolio of materials relevant to their project, and write a research paper explaining the investigative work they completed to identify the communication needs of their identified organization or individual.
Below is a sample curriculum schedule for a student pursuing a 24-month course of study. In general, master’s in political communication programs are comprised of 30-45 course credits, which students can complete in 12-24 months of full-time study, or 24-36 months of part-time study. Please note that specific course titles and content, as well as course sequencing, may vary across different programs. Furthermore, many masters in communication programs allow students a degree of flexibility in terms of the order in which they take their concentration courses.
2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan for a Master’s in Political Communication
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Prospective students should note that there are applied political communication programs and there are some master’s in political communication programs that focus more on the social scientific study of political communication, persuasion, and rhetoric, and how they impact social structures. These programs often include courses that focus more on political and public discourse, advanced theories of persuasion and rhetoric, and public communication and its role in society. In addition, there are master’s in public communication programs that are concerned with communication relating to public affairs and policies, both in terms of scholarly research and applied practice. These programs may be good options for students who are interested in exploring the public policy and affairs side of political communication.
Note: While some programs use the term public communication to describe public policy/political communication programs, others use the term for programs that focus on public relations; therefore, prospective students should examine curriculum carefully to determine the focus of any public communication program.