Research conducted at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies encompasses the main subfields of political science (comparative politics, international relations and political theory), as well as area studies (Baltic, Russian, East European and EU politics) and, more recently, research on the usage and impact of information and communication technologies. The main research directions of the Institute include:
- democracy, elections, and government, including e-governance and e-voting;
- identity, sovereignty and international relations;
- memory politics and transitional justice;
- Baltic politics and history;
- Russian and East European Studies, with a focus on politics and international relations;
- European integration and transatlantic cooperation.
The Institute’s research activities are organized under several clusters, including the Centre for Baltic Studies, the Centre for EU-Russia Studies, the Centre for IT Impact Studies, and a multi-disciplinary Centre for Applied Social Science. The Institute also hosts the Estonian National Election Study as well as the V-Dem Regional Centre for Eastern Europe and Russia. The Institute is a member of the European Consortium for Political Research.
The quality of research and other activities of the Institute is reflected in the position of the University of Tartu according to the subject in different higher education rankings. In the QS World University Rankings in Politics and International Studies (2018), the UT is among 151-200 world's best universities, and in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2019) in social sciences, the UT is among 251-300 world's best universities.
The Institute’s faculty have won national and international social science awards: Professor Emeritus Rein Taagepera is the recipient of Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science (by Uppsala University) and the Karl Deutsch Award (by the International Political Science Association); and Rein Taagepera (1999), Vello Pettai (2008), Eiki Berg (2012) and Andres Kasekamp (2014) have received the Estonian national research award for excellent research results. The Institute’s staff members serve on decision-making, supervisory, expert and advisory bodies of a range of public and third-sector organizations both in Estonia and internationally.
Since 2011, the Institute has been very active in hosting and supporting foreign visiting scholars, post-docs and PhD students, and has developed a reputation as a reliable organizer of large-scale international conferences in political science and area studies. Recent major conferences organized in Tartu include the ECPR Graduate Student conference and the First Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies (both held in 2016). Since 2016, the Institute serves as a host organization for Eurasia Program fellows of the Open Society Foundations.