Research in the department is organized into four major subfields, which are reflected in the department's programs of instruction:
- American politics centers on political behavior, rational choice institutionalism, and historical institutionalism.
- Comparative politics addresses theoretical and historical issues such as ethnicity and nationalism, political participation and culture in democratic and authoritarian regimes, transitions and consolidation of newly democratic regimes, and formal approaches to the design and comparison of institutions.
- International relations involves study of international institutions, conflicts, and relations between states and non-state actors, and employs a broad range of methodologies including interpretivist approaches to case studies, statistical analysis, and mathematical models.
- Political theory focuses on normative political philosophy, constitutional issues and constitution-making processes, democratic theory, political psychology, the methodology of political inquiry, and the history of political thought.
The substantive issues in each subfield and well defined; however, research in political science often entails significant overlap and interaction between fields. Most schools in the department, as in the discipline generally, pursue interests and employ competencies that span subfields.
In addition, the department is home to strong group of scholars interested in formal models of political institutions and behavior, who have developed influential theories of elections, conflict, legislatures, and bureaucratic politics. These theories are useful for motivating empirical work, and increasingly they form the basis of experimental research as well. Political economic theory spans the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations.