What Is Political Communication?

two female political science professionals in court house

Students who are passionate about the strategic use of language and enjoy following political news might consider specializing in political communication. What is political communication? As the name implies, it is a subfield that blends the communications and political science fields.

Earning a communications degree can prepare students to work toward a rewarding career in public service and political communication. Some political communicators work directly for elected officials. Others work for independent organizations that seek to influence public policy. Many career opportunities are available, but each starts with finding an in-depth answer to the question: “What is political communication?”

Characteristics of Political Communication

Politics describes all activities related to the government of a country and the official activities of elected individuals. Political communication refers to the messaging surrounding politics and it can be directed inward or outward. For example, citizens may direct political messaging toward their elected officials to influence their governance. Conversely, elected officials can direct political communication toward their constituents.

The defining characteristic of political communication is the creation of meaningful narratives in society that work to inform, persuade and call citizens to action.

Examples of Political Communication

Let us consider a hypothetical example. In the fictitious town of Newtown Springs, some locals want to create a new highway through a stretch of woods. Other people oppose this plan because they would prefer to create mountain biking trails and a nature preserve in that area.

Both groups of people petition their local elected officials, arguing that their proposed use of the land should prevail. Each side explains the advantages of doing things their preferred way while pointing out the downsides of the opposing group’s plan. These groups of people are both participating in political communication — strategic messaging designed to persuade their elected officials to agree with their point of view.

Alternatively, imagine that the citizens of Newtown Springs do not have any particular plan in mind for that stretch of woods. An elected official of the town decides that it would make an excellent nature preserve to enhance the locals’ quality of life and support conservation efforts. The elected official participates in media interviews, explaining why this plan would be best for the town. Those interviews are another form of political communication.

Political communication can consist of media interviews, published documents, websites, op-eds in newspapers, political campaigns and more. However, it can also include more than written and verbal communication. Political communication encompasses a political campaign’s or elected official’s logos, gesticulations during speeches, mannerisms and even hairstyles.

For example, two politicians may choose to reach their constituents in different ways. While one politician chooses mild mannerisms and a calm tone of voice, the other is enthusiastic and animated.

Although mannerisms and tone of voice don’t have much to do with the governance-related ideas these politicians are promoting, they allow the politicians to connect with their audiences. In other words, charisma and audience engagement are important characteristics of effective political communication.

Do You Need a Communications Degree to Enter This Field?

A bachelor’s degree is often a requirement to land a job in political communication. Some people enter this field with a bachelor’s degree in political science, while others major in communications. If you have the opportunity to do so, it is best to pursue a degree that blends these two fields — just like the profession itself does.

A Bachelor of Arts in Communications is one example of a degree that can prepare you for a career in political messaging. You will be taught the fundamentals of communication along with the principles of political theory. Although the curriculum of such a degree will vary from one school to the next, some specific topics may include the following:

  • Political processes, theories and thought, both contemporary and historical
  • The development of political messaging for political campaigns, including the roles of speechwriters and candidates
  • The elements of argumentation and advocacy, including the process of constructing effective oral and written arguments
  • Ethical theories, principles and decision-making in the communications field
  • Various methods of communication, including small group, mass, intercultural and public communication
  • Sound management practices for political campaigns

This type of communications degree may qualify you to pursue an entry-level career in this field. However, another benefit of earning a communications degree is its versatility. You will be taught many transferable skills that are needed across multiple industries — from sports to manufacturing to retail.

Types of Jobs in Political Communication

Now that you understand what political communication is, you may be thinking about possible job opportunities in this field. After you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political communication, you might pursue an entry-level job with a political campaign. You’ll likely need some experience before you can work your way up to a higher-level position.

For instance, you might begin your career as a campaign intern before progressing to become a legislative communications aide. Then, you might pursue a career as a communications coordinator, public relations specialist or lobbyist. Here’s a closer look at some of your options:

  • Campaign Intern: You could begin working as a campaign intern or volunteer while still in college. Most people start by working on smaller campaigns for local officials. Then, they might move on to statewide or nationwide campaigns after gaining some experience. Campaign interns handle a variety of tasks, such as engaging with constituents at political rallies and going door to door to discuss political issues.
  • Legislative Aide: There are a variety of types of legislative aides, including communications aides, who specialize in liaising with the elected official’s constituents. They read the elected officials’ mail, address constituents’ concerns and connect people to information. For example, a communications aide might help a constituent figure out how to apply for benefits designated for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
  • Communications Coordinator: Sometimes referred to as “public relations specialists,” communications coordinators hold higher-level jobs within a political office. They oversee all political and legislative communications, write press releases and speeches, post on social media and handle media relations. The communications coordinator ensures that all political messaging from their office aligns with the office’s core values and image.
  • Lobbyist: Lobbyists are among the few professional political communicators who do not work directly for politicians, although they often are retired politicians. They serve as advocates who work to influence politicians’ decision-making. Lobbyists may work for lobbying firms or for an organization or business that wishes to influence legislative happenings.

You can begin working toward a rewarding career in political communication when you earn a communications degree at Grand Canyon University. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences has instilled foundational knowledge in political theory, relational communication, political campaign management and other key competencies. To learn more about joining our dynamic learning community online or in Arizona, click on the button at the top of the screen to Request Info.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.