Matthew C. Nowlin

College of Charleston
Political Science

114 Wentworth
Charleston, SC
29401 |  Visit Personal Website

Search Google Scholar
Search for Google Scholar Profile

My research interests include theories of the policymaking process, with a substantive interest in environmental and energy policy. More specifically, I am interested in the information that used to determine how policy issues are understood—by both the public and policy elites—and the implications of those understandings for policy outcomes. I am most interested in these dynamics in policy domains that are scientifically and technically complex, such as climate change and nuclear energy.

Nowlin, Matthew C. and Thaddieus W. Conner. 2017. “‘Hot Rocks that Shoot Ghost Bullets’: Native American Perceptions of a Nuclear Waste Facility.” Politics, Groups, and Identities, Forthcoming
Abstract: Environmental justice concerns are raised when environmental risks and hazards are inequitably distributed across society. Native American populations have long been at the center of environmental justice disputes, however relatively little quantitative research has examined how Native Americans view the risks related to the siting of a potentially hazardous facility. Combining 35 statewide surveys collected from 1990 to 2001, the following study explores the risk perceptions of Native American populations in New Mexico regarding the storage of nuclear waste. We find that Native Americans tend to have higher perceptions of risk regarding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) facility than white respondents. We also explore variation within self-identified Native American respondents and find that older males tended to perceive less risk associated with WIPP and Native American respondents in counties with Navajo reservations tended to perceive more risk. These findings help in understanding how Native Americans perceive risk as it relates to environmental and energy issues.
Nowlin, Matthew C. "Policy Change, Policy Feedback, and Interest Mobilization: The Politics of Nuclear Waste Management." Review of Policy Research 33(1): 51-70
Abstract: Many of the leading theories of the policy process are aimed at providing insights into the factors that make policy change more (or less) likely. In general, policy change is seen as a result of shifting dynamics within policy subsystems. However, building on theories of policy feedback and interest mobilization, this article examines whether policy change, apart from being an effect of subsystem dynamics, can be a cause of shifting dynamics as latent actors are motivated to participate in the subsystem as a result of policy change. Two hypotheses regarding post-policy change mobilization are developed and tested using data on participation in congressional hearings concerning the management of nuclear waste. The findings suggest that policy change can activate latent policy actors, specifically those actors that view themselves as “losing” as a result of the policy change. These results point to the need for scholars to examine the potential impacts of post-policy change dynamics on policy development.
DOI: 10.1111/ropr.12158
Nowlin, Matthew C. 2016. “Modeling Issue Definitions Using Quantitative Text Analysis.” Policy Studies Journal 44(3): 309-331
Abstract: Issue definitions, the way policy issues are understood, are an important component for understanding the policymaking process. Research on issue definitions has been divided between a macro level that examines collective issue definitions and a micro level focusing on the ways in which policy actors frame policy issues. This article develops a model of issue definitions that assumes issues are multidimensional, competition exists among policy actors in defining issues, and that collective issue definitions can be understood as the aggregation of individual issue definitions. This model is then estimated using quantitative text analysis. While various approaches to text analysis and categorization have been used by scholars, latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA), a specific type of topic modeling, is used to estimate issue definitions. Using LDA, witness testimony taken from Congressional hearings that occurred from 1975 to 2012 about the issue of used nuclear fuel (UNF) is examined and seven distinct dimensions of the UNF debate are estimated. The construct validity of these dimensions is checked by testing them against two major policy changes that occurred in the UNF domain. I conclude with a discussion of the strengths and weakness of topic modeling, and how this approach could be used to test hypotheses drawn from several of the major policymaking theories.
DOI: 10.1111/psj.12110
Conner, Thaddieus W., Matthew C. Nowlin, Thomas Rabovsky, and Joseph T. Ripberger. 2015. “Cultural Theory and Managerial Values: Examining Trust as a Motivation for Collaboration.” Public Administration, Forthcoming.
Abstract: Public administration theorists have long argued that values of administrative actors fundamentally shape the quality and nature of the public services they provide. While there has been some work in recent years to measure values in the public sector like Public Service Motivation, we know relatively little about the role that other (more basic) values play in shaping managerial behaviour. To fill this gap, we argue that Cultural Theory (CT), a prominent theory within research on risk and public opinion, provides a general framework for operationalizing and measuring the values of public managers, which (if pursued) allows scholars to directly test important yet untested hypotheses about the relationship between values and managerial decision-making. To explore this proposition, we use data from a recent survey of American Indian education directors in public school districts to examine the relationship between cultural worldviews and managerial motivation to engage actors in collaborative arrangements.
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12200
Goebbert, Kevin, Hank Jenkins-Smith, Kim Klockow, Matthew C. Nowlin, and Carol Silva. 2012. "Weather, Climate, and Worldviews: The Sources and Consequences of Public Perceptions of Changes in Local Weather Patterns." Weather, Climate, and Society 4 (2):132-144.
Abstract: This paper analyzes the changes Americans perceive to be taking place in their local weather and tests a series of hypotheses about why they hold these perceptions. Using data from annual nationwide surveys of the American public taken from 2008 to 2011, coupled with geographically specific measures of temperature and precipitation changes over that same period, the authors evaluate the relationship between perceptions of weather changes and actual changes in local weather. In addition, the survey data include measures of individual-level characteristics (age, education level, gender, and income) as well as cultural worldview and political ideology. Rival hypotheses about the origins of Americans’ perceptions of weather change are tested, and it is found that actual weather changes are less predictive of perceived changes in local temperatures, but better predictors of perceived flooding and droughts. Cultural biases and political ideology also shape perceptions of changes in local weather. Overall, the analysis herein indicates that beliefs about changes in local temperatures have been more heavily politicized than is true for beliefs about local precipitation patterns. Therefore, risk communications linking changes in local patterns of precipitation to broader changes in the climate are more likely to penetrate identity-protective cognitions about climate.
Nowlin, Matthew C. 2011. "Theories of the Policy Process: State of the Research and Emerging Trends'' Policy Studies Journal 39 (s1):41-60.
Abstract: Over the last two decades many alternate theories of the policy process have been developed. This essay covers recent scholarship (from 2008 to 2010) regarding the major policy process theories. In addition, several recent trends in research are discussed including; the use of narrative in policy theory, issues that cross multiple subsystems, bureaucracy in the policy process, and synthesizing multiple theories and frameworks.
Jenkins-Smith, Hank C., Carol Silva, Matthew C. Nowlin, and Grant DeLozier. 2011. "Reversing Nuclear Opposition: Evolving Public Acceptance of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility." Risk Analysis 31 (4):629-644.
Abstract: Nuclear facilities have long been seen as the top of the list of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs), with nuclear waste repositories generating the greatest opposition. Focusing on the case of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico, we test competing hypotheses concerning the sources of opposition and support for siting the facility, including demographics, proximity, political ideology, and partisanship, and the unfolding policy process over time. This study tracks the changes of risk perception and acceptance of WIPP over a decade, using measures taken from 35 statewide surveys of New Mexico citizens spanning an 11-year period from fall 1990 to summer 2001. This time span includes periods before and after WIPP became operational. We find that acceptance of WIPP is greater among those whose residences are closest to the WIPP facility. Surprisingly, and contrary to expectations drawn from the broader literature, acceptance is also greater among those who live closest to the nuclear waste transportation route. We also find that ideology, partisanship, government approval, and broader environmental concerns influence support for WIPP acceptance. Finally, the sequence of procedural steps taken toward formal approval of WIPP by government agencies proved to be important to gaining public acceptance, the most significant being the opening of the WIPP facility itself.

Substantive Focus:
Energy and Natural Resource Policy
Environmental Policy PRIMARY
Science and Technology Policy SECONDARY

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory PRIMARY
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation
Public Opinion SECONDARY