What Is a Master’s Degree in Political Management?

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“Politics” is a broad term that has a wide array of implications. Because of this, you’re bound to get varying interpretations and definitions of the word’s essence. For example, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill is known for saying, “All politics is local,” and noted communications theorist Harold Lasswell famously described politics as the study of “who gets what, when and how.”

But when it comes to electoral politics, a description that virtually everyone can agree on is that it requires management and a keen understanding of what it takes to effectuate certain principles, value systems and policy stances for society, whether at the macro (national) or micro (state, local) level.

Sticker attached to collared white shirt, reading “I Voted.”

This is where a Master’s in Political Management at the George Washington University (GW) can be of tremendous value. The following will delve into some of the specifics of what it means to get a political management degree, how it differs from political science and public policy and what makes the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at GW stand out, readying graduates for the political arena, whether in the nation’s capital or someplace closer to home.

What is political management?

Political management provides students with the practical strategies and tactics that enable them to take part in the political process and affect change. Politics, in the electoral sense of the term, generally connotes activities that pertain to campaigning and policy implementation. These are the end results, or the finished products. Political management delves into what it takes in order to achieve desired ends through successful processes such as campaign strategies, communication, data analytics, grassroots engagement, and fundraising.

Dr. Lara Brown, GSPM director at GW, noted political management is essentially a study in how to influence the political process.

“Across the world and in Washington we are confronted by calls all the time about how our politics are broken,” Dr. Brown explained. “The school of political management is really about teaching students how to make those politics work.”

How does it differ from political science?

Because political management touches on many of the themes of political science, these two terms are frequently used interchangeably. They have some important distinctions, however. Political science is a branch of knowledge that is mainly concerned with the analytical and theoretical in the governmental sphere. Political management, on the other hand, is the practical, teaching students about how to execute and effectuate activities that go beyond theory and into application. This may include campaigning, lobbying or advocacy work for certain causes, principles and/or objectives.

“The political management program is the first applied program of democracy,” said Christopher “Chris” Arterton, Professor Emeritus of Political Management and the founding Dean of the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. “It’s not political science. It’s not public policy. It’s focused right on how people mobilize power.”

What makes the GSPM program distinctive?

There are a variety of ways that the George Washington University’s GSPM program sets itself apart in academia, one of which is the fact that few other programs like it exist.

“The Master’s degree program is unique,” said Lalitha Racioppo, GSPM enrollment advisor. “Other schools have similar offerings but not exact, such as course content. Others are much more theory based.

Michael Cornfield, GSPM research director, indicated that GW’s program is much more hands on.

“We teach by doing,” Cornfield said. “We don’t lecture. We put our students in decision-making situations, whether it’s by the case method, or simulations or simple discussion. We make them work so that they gain experience.”

Also unlike others programs, GW’s is 100 percent online. This gives students the added freedom they need to adjust their study in accordance with their work schedules or family obligations.

Indeed, in a recent SurveyMonkey poll of GSPM students, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they were already in the labor force. Arterton said he’s had classes where as much as 90 percent had jobs of their own.

In addition to the GSPM’s learning-by-doing course material, The George Washington University’s political management master’s program is highly regarded, both by household name political figures as well as the students who enroll. In the SurveyMonkey poll, prestige of the university was the second-most common response (68 percent) when participants were asked to name the GSPM program features they were most satisfied with at GW.

What have students gone on to do professionally?

In part because of the GSPM program’s esteemed status, graduates have gone on to launch highly successful careers in a wide variety of disciplines, including—but not limited to—print and electronic news media, university administration, lecturing, legal counsel, labor unions, campaign management and elected representatives at the local, state and federal level. Alumni include students who’ve run presidential and senatorial campaigns and elected officials, both foreign and domestic.

The online aspect of the GSPM program is certainly a perk for students looking to get a political management degree with busy lifestyles, but the George Washington University’s physical location is the icing on the cake. GW is in the very heart of Washington, D.C., where policies are decided, activated and effectuated. Several of GSPM’s instructors have backgrounds in campaign management, rubbing shoulders with household names and rising political stars.

“Our students really do learn from a faculty that is engaged not just in the academic world, but also the professional world,” said Brown. “These are practitioners who work in politics every day.”

GW’s proximity to Capitol Hill influences the curriculum and educational tactics that the GSPM program entails, which may change as trends and desired work skills adapt over time.

“All of our professors work in the day and teach at night,” Racioppo said. “This provides instructors with valuable experience they can share with students as they’re teaching.”

Handshake by two professionals

From polling to campaigning, lobbying to consulting, the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University supplies students with the compass they need to effectively chart their course on the political trail.

Recommended readings:
The art of winning a tight political race
Can an online program support people already working in politics?
How political management differs from political science


Master’s in Political Management Online
Global Center for Political Management