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.
I argue that there is a ``paradox of ambition" because black electoral success is detrimental to black agenda setting. 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 specter of Cory Booker's inevitable run for higher office, scholars have argued that there is a need for a reevaluation of black political ambition and a new classification for black politics itself. If we are experiencing a genuine emergence of a new ambitious breed of black politicians, then the paradox of ambition 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 and collective power through the committee system.
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. The conventional approach to this puzzle has been to either focus on the determinants of legislative effectiveness or to conceive of bill sponsorship as symbolic position-taking. As a result, we know relatively little about how sponsorship patterns vary across members and over time, and more importantly the introduction of legislation has been divorced from the policy process. I address both of these problems by offering 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. Using multilevel models I analyze the volume and content of members' legislative portfolios from 1947 to 1998. I find that members adjust their sponsorship according to changing circumstances, whether those changes are in terms of 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.
Theories of agenda setting claim that political entrepreneurs must broaden their bases of support in order to place new issues onto the formal agenda. This paper takes that claim seriously by examining the role of black protest and descriptive representation in securing white recognition of black policy issues. Making use of a new data set that provides measures of media attention and congressional bill sponsorship from 1948 to 1997, I show that both protest and descriptive representation were instrumental in gaining white recognition of black policy demands, culminating in the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, the potency of protest and descriptive representation has lessened in response to the black social and political advancement of the post-civil rights era. It seems that black strategies of conflict expansion have become victims of their own success.
In this paper, I introduce a new data set on how Congress recognizes and pays attention to black issues from 1947 to 1998. Using a variety of statistical tools, the exploration of this data reveals that black agenda setting is fundamentally a story about change. 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.
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.
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.