April 29, 2011
The study of political science often is listed among the humanities in a college curriculum, but research methods of politics are based in science. Researchers use the scientific method to explain political phenomena and describe relationships among different aspects of the political process. They apply the principles of objectivity and methodological rigor associated with the hard sciences. (See References 1) To apply the scientific method to political science, you must identify the dependent and independent variables.
Define the research question. Determine what phenomenon you are attempting to explore. The research question will contain the independent and dependent variables you are trying to measure.
Identify the independent variables. Independent variables stand alone, and are not affected by other variables. Age, race and sex are independent variables in any study because they do not change. Education and income often are used as independent variables, unless the study is attempting to describe how they are changed by other factors.
Identify the dependent variables. Dependent variables depend on other factors for change. Some common dependent variables in political science research are voter turnout, political participation and party affiliation.
The National Center for Education Statistics suggests inserting the variables into a simple sentence to remember which is dependent and independent: “(Independent Variable) causes a change in (Dependent Variable), and it isn't possible for (Dependent Variable) to cause a change in (Independent Variable)."
For example, gender causes a change in voter turnout, and it isn't possible for voter turnout to cause a change in gender.
University of North Carolina: Writing in Political Science
National Center for Education Statistics: What Are Independent and Dependent Variables?