Skip to Content

Department of Political Science

Fields of Inquiry

Graduate students are encouraged to focus their studies in specific areas of political science and international studies. These fields of inquiry also shape the research output of the department.

American Politics

Students may choose to focus on American Politics as their field of inquiry. This field delves into the complexities of things like voting behavior and American government institutions.

Our research examines the role of institutions, the public, and other individuals and groups in the political process. This takes the form of studies involving elections and voting behavior, public opinion, Congress, political psychology, social movements, race, and the American states, among others. Two major areas of emphasis are political behavior and American national institutions.

The American politics group represents a vibrant and diverse faculty with a long history of visibility in the discipline. American politics faculty members have published with the leading academic presses, including Cambridge University Press, Duke University Press, the University of Illinois Press, and SUNY Press.

They also frequently publish their work in the leading discipline-wide and subfield journals – including the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of PoliticsPolitical Research QuarterlyLegislative Studies QuarterlyPublic Opinion QuarterlyPolitical Behavior, and American Politics Research.

Moreover, they are the recipients of a number of awards and are recognized as leaders in the field through appointments to editorial boards, positions in professional associations, teaching at the ICPSR summer program, and so forth.

Graduate students frequently collaborate and publish with American politics faculty and are trained to develop rigorous theoretical research programs drawing on a wide range of sophisticated statistical and analytical methods.

Our American Politics Ph.D. alumni currently hold faculty positions at institutions such as the University of North Texas, the University of Montana, the University of Akron, James Madison University, and Roanoke College. Our alumni also include the Past President of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and current President of Abt SRBI, one of the leading public opinion survey firms in the world. 

Comparative Politics

This field investigates the similarities and differences between many political features and systems across various geographies.

Comparative politics is a greatly diverse field within the discipline. Our faculty represent a wide range of research programs and thematic specializations that address contemporary concerns within the discipline and the world—from comparative judicial politics to democratization, elections and voting behavior, post-conflict states and transitional justice, public policy and governance, political economy, rule of law, social movements, identity politics, and political violence. We offer regional expertise spanning Western and post-socialist European states, post-Soviet Russia, Latin America, East Asia and Africa. 

Our faculty members have won nationally competitive grants. They publish in the leading disciplinary and area journals, and have also produced monographs, edited volumes and book chapters. Our faculty members play important roles in national and regional professional associations, and lend their expertise to think tanks, government and non-government agencies.  

We train our graduate students both broadly and rigorously, emphasizing training in quantitative, qualitative and formal methodologies, grant writing and fieldwork skills. 

Our students work closely with faculty in other fields, such as international relations, methodology and public law; and are able to access grants and other academic opportunities using our networks with other academic hubs on campus such as the inter-disciplinary area studies centers at the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, the Rule of Law Collaborative, the Moore School of Business and the Women’s Studies center.    

International Relations

International Relations faculty at USC specialize in the study of international political economy, international conflict, and foreign policy. Much of their work crosses the boundaries between these areas of study, for example examining the connections between economics and conflict, and linking internal and external politics as a crucial approach to the study of international relations.

IR faculty cover the key areas of international relations theory and foreign policy analysis, international conflict and conflict processes, and international political economy. More importantly much of their work crosses the boundaries between these sub-areas, linking conflict and IPE, and linking internal and external politics as a crucial approach to the study of international relations.

More senior IR colleagues have held distinguished positions in scholarly associations, and all of the IR faculty are professionally active with established or growing national reputations.

The IR faculty have published in all of the major general and subfield journals, and with top university presses, along with successful grant activity. The newer members of the international relations faculty, in particular, are contributing to the growing departmental strength in methodology. 

Providing strong academic and professional training to a rich mix of international and American Ph.D. students, South Carolina is well represented by IR Ph.D. alumni in academic, research, and governmental positions domestically and around the globe.

Political Methodology

A major development in political science during the past two decades has been the revolution in political methodology. Spurred by a renewed commitment to analytical rigor, the increased availability of quantitative data, and marked advances in computing power, political scientists today are employing advanced research methods that in many cases would have been either unknown or impractical a mere two decades ago.

The Department of Political Science at USC is well-staffed in political methodology, offering broad training across a wide range of methodologies, and its faculty and graduate students have published their research using numerous methodological tools.

The Department features several faculty members with research and teaching interests in political methodology.

Department faculty members have published articles on political methodology in the leading journal for quantitative research in the discipline, the American Journal of Political Science, the leading subfield journal in political methodology, Political Analysis, a leading general journal, the Journal of Politics, and the leading subfield journal in political behavior, Public Opinion Quarterly. Another of our faculty has also recently completed a book manuscript for the Analytical Methods for Social Research book series at Cambridge University Press.

Department faculty members have also been instructors at the ICPSR Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research and the Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models (EITM) Summer Institute.

The commitment to political methodology in the Political Science Department has also paid dividends in graduate instruction. Department graduate students have been invited participants at the highly selective EITM Summer Institute and one of the Department’s Ph.D. students was the recipient of the inaugural EITM Certification Scholarship. This highly competitive scholarship covered tuition for four courses at the ICPSR Summer Program.

Political Theory

Political theory is the study of the concepts, principles, and arguments that people use and have used to describe, explain, and evaluate political behaviors, actions, and institutions.

Research in political theory is situated at the nexus of important political issues such as the nature and practice of democracy, authority, justice, leadership, and the rule of law; and of questions of norms, values, and ideals. Oriented to the history and traditions of political thought with a view to understanding the political present, and with particular strengths in ancient and modern political thought, the political theorists at the University of South Carolina draw on a variety of philosophical, historical, and interdisciplinary methods to explore central questions of and for political life.

Major areas of interest among the political theorists at the University of South Carolina include questions of justice, citizenship, ethics, conflict, democracy, authority, and law.

The political theorists at the University of South Carolina publish in the leading disciplinary and specialty journals of the field, including the American Political Science Review, Political Theory and History of Political Thought, and with premier academic presses. Invited to present their research nationally and internationally, department faculty in political theory have organized and co-organized national and international conferences, been instructors at summer institutes funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and are active in exciting Initiatives on the USC campus.

The Social Advocacy and Ethical Life Initiative sponsors fellowships that support teaching and research by graduate students interested in issues at the nexus of politics, ethics, and advocacy.

The Classics in Contemporary Perspectives Initiative supports a postdoctoral research program, colloquia, and an interdisciplinary group of faculty and graduate students as they explore the ways in which the ancient reflects, refracts, and interrogates the modern and the contemporary.

Public Law

Political Science has long been a favorite major for students planning to use their undergraduate degree as a stepping stone to law school and to careers in law, governance, and civic engagement. 

The Department of Political Science at USC offers a wide variety of courses in Public Law and Judicial Politics to prepare our undergraduates for success in these endeavors.  In addition to offering the traditional two course sequence in Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties, the Department offers several more specialized courses which emphasize developing the skills essential to success.  These courses include a Judicial Process course which provides a political perspective on the role of judges and courts in American politics, as well as courses that provide a cross national perspective on the role of courts and the rule of law.

The Department also offers a Moot Court and Legal Research class that prepares students for advocacy before appellate courts, and a Women and the Law Course which is cross-listed with Women’s Studies.

The Department features several faculty who are internationally recognized as being among the top scholars in both U.S. Federal Courts and the comparative study of courts and judicial behavior. This reputation has been built primarily on the publication of nearly 100 peer reviewed articles by its three core faculty members (many coauthored with current graduate students), including multiple publications in all of the leading Political Science journals (including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics), the leading specialized journals in the subfield of Public Law and Judicial Politics, and by a steady stream of books published in leading university presses.

The Public Law and Judicial Politics faculty are also among the national leaders in securing research funding from the National Science Foundation.  The nearly $2 million in grants received by the current faculty provide a significant source of support for both their own research as well as supporting multiple research initiatives of their Ph.D. students. 

The faculty maintain a strong tradition of extensive collaboration with their Ph.D. students that has resulted in more than 20 papers presented by graduate students at major national Political Science conferences over the past four years. Backed by rigorous training in research methods, our Ph.D. graduates regularly compete for placement in top research universities.


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.