Matthew B. Platt
Department of Political Science, Morehouse College



From GRID to gridlock: the relationship between scientific biomedical breakthroughs and HIV/AIDS policy in the US Congress written with Manu O. Platt
(2013. Journal of the International AIDS Society)

Biomedical research advancements helped shape both the level and content of bill sponsorship on HIV/AIDS, but they had no effect on other stages of the legislative process. Examination of the content of bills and biomedical research indicated that science helped transform HIV/AIDS bill sponsorship from a niche concern of liberal Democrats to a bipartisan coalition when Republicans became the majority party. The trade-off for that expansion has been an emphasis on the global epidemic to the detriment of domestic policies and programmes.

Participation for What? A Policy-motivated Approach to Political Activism
(2008. Political Behavior 30: 391-413)

Normatively and intuitively, we conceive of political participation as an integral component of democratic policymaking. However, research on participation generally does not include policy considerations as part of individuals’ decisions to engage in activism. I offer an opportunity model of participation that begins to study how policy goals shape individual participation and how aggregate participation shapes policymaking. The central argument is that individuals’ policy goals allow them to recognize those moments when it is most efficient and/or effective to take action. Examining black participation from 1980 to 1994, I show that black Americans are more likely to participate when they face external threats, are embedded in social networks, and have greater access to policymakers. Most importantly, the recognition of these opportunities varies according to individuals’ resources. This research moves beyond the discussion of who participates to address the equally fundamental question: participation for what?

Working Papers
** Please Do Not Cite Without Permission **

Defining the Black Agenda
(Last Updated: February 23, 2014)

In this paper, I introduce a new data set on how Congress recognizes black issues from 1947 to 2002. The exploration of this data emphasizes the importance of both continuity and change in narratives of black politics. Over the last fifty years of the twentieth century Congress has allocated a greater share of its agenda to black issues and those issues cover a broader range of policy areas. Black Americans have progressed from a state of impoverished political exclusion to middle-class political incorporation, and the black agenda reflects that change accordingly. However, this story of change exists with a backdrop of the persistent failure of black Americans' struggles to achieve full economic and social equality.

A Paradox of Ambition
(Last Updated: September 3, 2013)

The last three election cycles suggest that we may be experiencing a surge in black political ambition. Barack Obama's historic election is sandwiched between the failed efforts of people like Denise Majette, Harold Ford Jr., Artur Davis, and Kendrick Meek. Combined with the Cory Booker's senatorial run, scholars have argued that there is a need for a reevaluation of black political ambition \citep{Smith09} and a new classification for black politics itself \citep{Gillespie09}. If we are experiencing a genuine emergence of a new ambitious breed of black politicians, then the paradox of ambition -- that black electoral success is detrimental to black agenda setting -- would suggest that we may also be experiencing a major abandonment of black politics. This paper begins to investigate this possibility in terms of individual bill sponsorship for black members of Congress from 1947 to 2010.

Surprisingly Normal: Recognition of Black Issues by Non-Black Members of Congress
(Last Updated: July 17, 2013)

Debates in the race and representation literature have been focused on whether race matters for the substantive representation of black interests. However, this debate has overlooked the basic reality that the vast majority of black issue legislation is sponsored by non-black members of Congress. I introduce a problem-solving framework to analyze sponsorship of black issue legislation from 1948 to 1997. The results show that black issue recognition has changed over time, but ideology, institutional position, and district composition are the core determinants of member decisions to recognize black issues. Rather than relying upon the outsider pressure of protest or the insider influence of descriptive black representation, black Americans can expand the scope of conflict by simply electing white liberal representatives. Contrary to expectations of the exceptional quality of black agenda setting, in post-war America black politics is surprisingly normal.

Legislative Problem-Solving: Exploring Bill Sponsorship in Post-war America
(Last Updated: September 11, 2011)

Given the small number of bills that are actually enacted into public policy, it is puzzling that members continue to sponsor bills at such high rates. I offer a ``problem-solving" framework of bill sponsorship that is compatible with standard conceptions of goal-oriented behavior and conceives of sponsorship as placing issues onto the public agenda. Analyzing the volume and content of members' legislative portfolios from 1947 to 1998, I find that members adjust their sponsorship according to changes in their own institutional positions or broader developments in the social, political, and economic environments. Bill sponsorship is neither irrational nor devoid of policy relevance. It is a tool that members use to recognize problems and cultivate reputations as problem-solvers.

Preaching in the Wilderness: Exploring the Macro Dynamics of Political Participation written with Fredrick C. Harris
(Last Updated: September 12, 2011)

Research on the relationship between contextual factors and individual-level participation has offered a new frontier in the study of political activity. These studies push beyond the core characteristics highlighted in the Civic Voluntarism Model to understand how individuals respond to political, economic, and social environments. This paper builds on the contributions of both of these literatures to explore how national, political, and economic contexts shape aggregate rates of participation from 1973-1994. The central argument is that changes in the political and economic context produce alterations in individuals' political orientations, and these changed orientations drive fluctuations in aggregate behavior. Based on standard time series techniques, the results show that economic difficulties, competition over policymaking authority, and presidential elections act as stimulants for aggregate participation. The message is simple: civic participation is a dynamic response to a constantly changing world.

Boons, Banes, and Neutrals: Context and Disparities in Political Participation
(Last Updated: October 20, 2012)

Racial disparities in political participation have been examined thoroughly by the literature. However, the previous research has not explored how these participation gaps change according to broader contextual factors. This paper provides some evidence that individuals' differing perceptions of social, political, and economic realities mediate the effects of context on participation. I argue that these differences are the roots of participation gaps. Political activity is explained by neither individual characteristics nor context; a true understanding requires both.

Matthew B. Platt
Department of Political Science
Morehouse College
Atlanta, GA 30314