What is a Policy Analyst?

Considered the nucleus of the think tank, the public policy analyst (also referred to simply as a policy analyst) is the face of a policy research institute where national trends, laws, and regulations are tracked and studied so recommendations can be made for change.

The term ‘public’ in public policy analyst refers to the goal of these professionals to influence public policy. They often work in state and federal governmental agencies, think tanks (like the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations, the RAND Corporation, etc.), special interest groups, and consulting firms.

Public policy analysts are scholars and researchers who usually work in teams that study the effectiveness of programs and policies from an outside expert’s point of view. In addition to closely analyzing policies, these professionals critique them and offer alternatives. If there’s an alternative that may work better, public policy analysts will find it.

Once they propose an alternative to an existing program or policy, public policy analysts set out to promote and defend it. They may write articles or opinion pieces, meet with legislators, speak at conferences and, at certain times, testify before elected bodies, such as Congress.

Most policy analysts specialize in a certain area, such as:

  • Environmental policy
  • Health policy
  • Social policy
  • Immigration policy
  • Education policy
  • International policy
  • Science and technology

The Day in the Life of a Public Policy Analyst: What Does a Policy Analyst Do?

Policy analysts are found working in both government where they serve the public interest, as well as in the private sector where they examine how laws, regulations and other policies might be changed to benefit a particular industry sector.

Much work goes into analyzing and proposing a new policy or an alternative to an existing policy or program. Public policy analysts, long considered the active observers of the political realm, spend much of their day reading the latest policy reports and news and sharing their ideas with their colleagues and the general public via blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Their job involves carefully examining statistical data, so they are always working to stay updated on the latest policy developments. They examine older data, formulate new opinions based on both old and new data, and then propose resolutions. They also gather their own data by organizing focus groups, performing cost-benefit analyses, and creating surveys.

And while public policy analysts spend a great deal of time simply reading about the latest developments and discussions surrounding public policy, it is common for these professionals to take their work to the general public, where they examine how policy initiatives impact the lives of everyday people.

Policy analysts working in government may create policy, evaluate the effectiveness of current policies, or identify current or imminent problems and then work to find solutions.

Policy analysts working for think tanks are usually funded by private corporations and grants from political and social foundations. In the private sector, policy analysts are hired by private corporations and the industry organizations that represent them to analyze and make recommendations about how to approach lobbying efforts to influence laws to the benefit of that industry.

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How to Become a Public Policy Analyst

Most public policy analysts hold a master’s degree, doctorate, or law degree (JD). And while the area of study may vary depending on an analyst’s area of expertise, the most common fields of study in this profession include:

  • Economics
  • Public Policy
  • Political Science
  • Business Administration
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Education

Graduate programs in public policy are often designed as:

  • Master of Public Policy
  • Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Policy Analysis
  • PhD in Policy Analysis and Management
  • PhD in Public Policy Analysis
  • PhD in Social Policy Planning and Analysis

Some of the courses found within a graduate degree in policy analysis include:

  • Microeconomics
  • Economic Policy Analysis for Policymakers
  • Science and Technology Policy
  • Problem Solving and Decision Making
  • Law and Economics
  • Quantitative Methods for Policy Analysis
  • Foundations of Policy Analysis
  • Scope and Theory of Public Policy

Reinforcing their role as scholars and researchers, many policy analysts also teach in higher education and many go on to work for political campaigns.

Social scientists, writers, Congressional staffers, and investment bankers are just a few of the professionals who often transition to careers in public policy analysis.

Public Policy Analyst Salaries

Many Public Policy Analyst positions also fall into the Bureau of Labor Statistics category of Political Scientists. According to 2021 statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Political Scientists earned a median salary of $122,510 annually.

  • 25th percentile: $82,450
  • 50th percentile: $122,510
  • 75th percentile: $155,190
  • 90th percentile: $172,490

Public Policy Analysts earned the highest mean salaries in the following states:

  • Virginia: $143,150
  • Michigan: $141,780
  • Maryland: $140,850
  • District of Columbia: $126,210
  • California: $119,160

The top-paying metropolitan areas for Public Policy Analysts, according to mean salary, were:

  • Baltimore (also includes Columbia and Towson), MD: $151,830
  • Washington (also includes Arlington and Alexandria), DC-VA-MD-WV: $129,130
  • New York (also includes Newark and Jersey City), NY-NJ-PA: $121,250
  • Seattle (also includes Tacoma and Bellevue), WA: $112,880
  • Phoenix (also includes Mesa and Scottsdale), AZ: $100,410
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2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Political Scientists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.