If you own a smartphone, you are involved with politics and it’s involved with you. Wherever you live, the political decisions your government makes are likely to affect what is on your phone and how you can use it. China has banned apps like Facebook and Google. Before the 2021 Ugandan election, the government simply shut down the internet entirely.1 In India, the government distributes benefits directly to citizens through their phones.2 In the United States, government regulations—one type of rules that are created through political action—touch virtually every aspect of your phone’s production, sale, and communications.3
Your phone also enables you to engage in political action. You can use your phone to talk about politics or to call your local representative to express your views. You can organize a campaign through WhatsApp, share videos of police brutality or of peaceful protest, or Venmo contributions to your favorite political cause.4 You can use your phone to learn about politics, political engagement, and what politicians are doing at home and around the world.
The political decisions of local and national governments and international organizations can affect the water you drink, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the dwelling you call home. Politics and policy can play a role in the most intimate details of your life, including your reproductive rights, marriage rights, and even how your body will be treated after you die.
Politics is everywhere. Whether or not you care about politics, politics has an interest in you.
When you develop a competent understanding of politics and political science, you are a better-prepared citizen, political actor, and job seeker.
With a more sophisticated understanding of politics and political science, you can better understand questions of who gets what, when, how, and perhaps most important, why. The quality of our politics depends to a large degree on the quality of citizen engagement. Want a better government, with politicians who possess greater integrity and policies that more closely reflect the public interest? These things will not happen automatically or on their own. They will happen if informed citizens work together to make them happen.
When you think like a political scientist, you seek evidence and carefully scrutinize that evidence—in politics as well as in other areas of your life. Doing so helps to inoculate you from misinformation and manipulation. When you are asked “Why did [this political event] happen?” or “What do you think will happen?” you are able to respond “The evidence suggests . . .” or “Research indicates . . .” or even “I do not know. But in similar circumstances. . . .” Scientific thinking enables you to navigate the complex political world.
This chapter will introduce you to the world of politics and the systematic study of political science. You will learn some of the fundamental principles of politics as well as core concepts.