About Matt

I am an assistant professor within the Department Political Science at the University of Miami. Previously, I was Postdoctoral Scholar affiliated with the GenForward Survey  at the University of Chicago. 

I received my Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University in June of 2020. My work is featured in Perspectives on PoliticsPolitical Behavior, the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, the Washington Post, and GenForward’s Race and Place: Young Adults and the Future of Chicago.

I study how local-level institutions, especially schools and neighborhoods, act as microcosms of democracy. I find that these institutions can simultaneously serve as sites that exacerbate existing racial inequalities while also holding the potential to foster agency and equal political voice. I investigate these roles and their effects on political participation by leveraging multiple methodological approaches, including experiments, survey data, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and archival research.

My book project—forthcoming at Oxford University Press— explores the ways in which civic education courses shape the political attitudes and behaviors of high schoolers along the lines of race and ethnicity. More specifically, I find that content and teaching practices that center the local knowledge and grassroots political action of marginalized groups have the ability to forge more empowering civic learning experiences for young people. This project grew out of my dissertation, which received three awards from the American Political Science Association, including the  E.E. Schattschneider Award for best doctoral dissertation in field of American government. This work utilizes a mixed-methods approach that includes the following: archival research; statistical analyses of a nationally representative surveys; a survey experiment distributed to nearly 700 high schoolers within Chicago area classrooms; observations of 24 Chicago high school classrooms; statistical analyses of an original survey of 300 Chicago high school social studies teachers; in-depth qualitative interviews with 30 high school social studies teachers; and focus groups with 32 Chicago high school students.

This research is informed by a diverse set of academic literatures including race and ethnicity, political behavior, socialization, urban politics, and education policy.

I believe that research is most powerful when it is placed into the hands of individuals who are entrusted to institute policy change. As a public scholar, I  have contributed to research at  a number of organizations including the Obama Foundation, iCivics, GenForward,  the American Bar Foundation, and the Institute of Higher Education and Democracy.

In addition to research, I am deeply committed to teaching. As a former public school teacher and a first generation college student, I am committed to ensuring that students can leverage the knowledge and skills they acquire in the classroom to play an active role in shaping their communities and the decision-making processes of elected officials.

Currently, I teach Race and Ethnic Politics and Urban Politics  courses at the University of Miami. During the 2020-2022 academic year, I taught American Politics at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago . I also developed a new Social Studies Content for Teachers course for both graduate and undergraduate teaching candidates within Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy that I taught between 2020-2022.

Previously, I served as a teaching assistant for a number of political science courses, including Intro to American Politics and Government, Environmental Politics, and Political Parties and Elections. I have also advised dozens of undergraduate research projects as a teaching assistant for the department’s Undergraduate Honors Thesis Seminar and Jamie Druckman’s Studying Public Opinion course. During the 2019-2020 academic year, I chaired the Graduate Teaching Committee within the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University and served as a Graduate Teaching Fellow through the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching.

Prior to beginning graduate school, I worked as a 5th grade teacher within the San Antonio Independent School District. In 2014, I received the district’s Rising Star Award, given to exceptional first-year teachers within the district. I am an alumnus of Teach For America and have tutored dozens of students through Nurturing Wisdom Chicago.

I received bachelor’s degrees in political science and Asian Studies from St. Olaf College in 2012 and a master’s degree in social science from the University of Chicago in 2015.


Peer-Reviewed Publications

Nelsen, Matthew D. and Christopher Petsko. 2021, “Race and White Rural Consciousness.” Perspectives on Politics (19): 1205-1218.

The concept of rural consciousness has gained a significant amount of traction over the past several years, as evidenced by hundreds of citations and its inclusion within the most recent pilot of the ANES. However, many have questioned whether rural consciousness is appreciably different from racial prejudice. We assessed this issue by (a) distributing a survey study to Wisconsinites living within a number of rural and urban communities, and by (b) examining the relationships between rural consciousness, racial resentment, and political attitudes in the ANES 2019 Pilot Study. The survey study revealed that participants living in rural parts of Wisconsin—compared with those living in urban parts—tended to think of city dwellers as possessing more negative attributes. In addition, the survey study revealed that rural participants thought of Milwaukeeans, specifically, as possessing stereotypically Black attributes. Moreover, this tendency was starker among those who scored higher on a measure of rural consciousness, suggesting that rural consciousness is related to racial stereotyping. Finally, in an analysis of the ANES 2019 Pilot Study, we found that rural consciousness correlated with racial resentment, and that controlling for racial resentment dramatically reduced the extent to which rural consciousness could predict political preferences (e.g., approval for Donald Trump). Thus, while white rural consciousness may not be reducible to racism, racism certainly plays a central role.

Nelsen, Matthew D. (2021). “Cultivating Youth Engagement: Race and the Behavioral Effects of Critical PedagogyPolitical Behavior (43): 751-784.

Political scientists attribute gaps in participation between whites and people of color to unequal access to political resources, political efficacy, and weak affiliations to political parties. I argue that the content of civic education courses also matters.  I theorize that if courses were to incorporate critical pedagogy – an educational approach that centers the agency and grassroots political action of marginalized groups – that young people of color would be more likely to participate in politics. I test this theory using an experiment distributed to nearly 700 14-18-year high schoolers in the Chicago area. I find that critical pedagogy dramatically bolsters the willingness of Latinx and black youth to pursue multiple forms of political participation. Such an educational intervention provides one way to prepare an increasingly diverse generation of young people for active participation within American democracy. It also reveals how civic education in schools can play a crucial role in processes of political socialization and engagement.

R Script

Nelsen, Matthew D. (2021). “Teaching Citizenship: Race and the Behavioral Effects of American Citizenship Education.” Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics (6): 157-186.

Political scientists have identified how resources, attitudes, and mobilization impact political participation across racial groups. However, the role of civic education has largely been overlooked in shaping these trends. I develop a theory that suggests exposure to civics curricula yields heterogeneous effects on the political participation of youth across racial groups. I test my hypotheses with data from the Black Youth Project’s 2005 Youth Culture Survey, supplemented by two original data collections from 2017-2018. I find that civic education courses are associated with higher rates of external efficacy among white youth, but not for black and Latinx youth. Contrastingly, civic education courses appear to increase acts of public voice among black and Latinx respondents, but not for their white peers. Rather than viewing civic education courses as a panacea for low rates of youth political participation, scholars and policymakers should pay closer attention to the ways in which the content of civic education courses contributes to heterogeneous effects across racial and ethnic groups.


Public Scholarship

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 10.09.54 AM

Nelsen, Matthew. 2020. “America’s Classrooms Shut down This Spring. Civics Lessons Shifted to the Streets.” Washington Post.

Nelsen, Matthew D. 2021. “Serious historians are criticizing Trump’s 1776 report. It’s how most U.S. history is already taught.” The Washington Post.


Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 6.46.11 PM.png

Nelsen, Matthew D. 2019. “Education, Unequal, Policy, and Visions for Equity” in Race & Place: Young Adults and the Future of Chicago (Genforward at the University of Chicago): 24-35

Neighborhoods play a formative role in shaping the educational opportunities available to young adults in Chicago’s educational landscape. The white Chicago natives in our study overwhelmingly attended exclusive, selective enrollment, and private schools located on the city’s North Side. As a result, these young people discussed the challenges facing Chicago Public Schools from a more abstract perspective, having benefited from funding policies that prioritize mixed or majority white, North Side schools. While some of the young people of color we interviewed also gained access to exclusive schools, they tended to discuss the ways in which pursuing educational opportunities outside of their neighborhoods created a sense of distance between them and the communities in which they grew up. Still, many young people of color, especially African Americans in Englewood, experienced the day-to-day challenges of educational disinvestment in Chicago’s neighborhood schools first-hand. Faced with geographical isolation and limited educational mobility, young people of color, and Black youth in particular, possessed a deep sense of distrust in local government and a sense that city leadership does not care about communities of color. While many of our interviews with young adults about education in Chicago were critical in nature, interviewees also pushed back against the notion that young people are apathetic about local politics. Young adults across Chicago articulated tangible policy solutions that should be considered by city leadership in order to address the educational challenges facing the city. These solutions include reinvesting in neighborhood schools; adopting a more equitable approach to funding that takes preexisting racial, ethnic, and geographic inequalities into account; developing a pipeline to recruit and retain well trained, culturally aware, and passionate educators who are invested in Chicago; and increasing access to free after-school programs that allow young people to explore their interests, obtain additional academic support, and prepare for college.

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 6.46.29 PM

Nelsen, Matthew D. “Places of Freedom, Safety, and Joy” in Race & Place: Young Adults and the Future of Chicago (Genforward at the University of Chicago): 116-126

Chicago is frequently portrayed as a city of deficits: gang violence and homicides capture the attention of media outlets and the entertainment industry alike; bond-rating firms label the city’s credit as “junk;” and schools are portrayed as “crumbling” and “failing” despite academic gains. These challenges are real and worthy of scrutiny. However, our conversations with young Chicagoans allow us to identify stories that typically go unrecognized; they remind us that individuals living on the city’s South and West Sides continue to experience joy, exercise agency, and possess a great deal of pride in their communities even in the face of harsh inequities. Alternative representations of what it is like to live on the South and West sides of the city not only complicate our image of Chicago but lend important insights to policymakers. As the city grapples with continued population loss, city leadership should be attuned to the emotions young people ascribe to their communities. Freedom, agency, and feelings of safety and joy play an important role in how young adults envision their futures in Chicago.


The underlying theme of my research is that the study of political behavior must pay careful attention to racial and ethnic identity as well as institutional and geographical contexts. These contexts fundamentally shape how people participate in politics. Continue reading my research statement below or download it here.



My research addresses the ways in which education can enhance the vitality of American democracy. In particular, I focus on ways to ensure that young people (including those from marginalized backgrounds) can play an active role in shaping their communities and the decision-making processes of elected officials. My experiences as a public school teacher and an instructor of record at both Northwestern University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago have taught me that the classroom is an important environment to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve these ends. Continue reading my teaching statement below or download it here.

Assistant Professor, University of Miami

  • Race and Ethnic Politics (undergraduate), Fall 2022 (syllabus)
  • Urban and Local Politics (undergraduate and graduate), Fall 2022 (syllabus)

Adjunct Instructor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Adjunct Instructor, Northwestern University

Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University

  • Political Parties and Elections (undergraduate), Prof. Tabitha Bonilla, Spring 2019 (course evaluations)
  • U.S. Environmental Politics (undergraduate), Prof. Kim Marion Suiseeya, Winter 2019 (course evaluations)
  • American Politics and Government (undergraduate), Prof. Thomas Ogorzalek, Fall 2018 (course evaluations)
  • Studying Public Opinion (undergraduate), Prof. James Druckman, Spring 2018            (course evaluations)
  • Honors Thesis Seminar (undergraduate), Prof. Andrew Roberts, Fall and Winter 2018

Fifth Grade Teacher, San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD)

  • August 2012-June 2014
  • Rising Star Teacher Award Winner (Awarded for excellence during the first year of teaching)

Fifth Grade Teacher, The Israel Program for Excellence in English (TALMA)

  • June 2014-August 2014

High School Entrance Exam and ACT Tutor, Nurturing Wisdom Chicago

  • September 2014-present

Additional Training

  • Teach For America, June 2012-June 2014
  • Texas Teacher Orientation and Preparation Program, June 2012-June 2013