A new paper authored by Andrew Hall and Jesse Yoder finds that homeownership is a predictor of voting in local elections, particularly on questions related to zoning.
Does owning property influence how individuals engage in the political process? This is a fundamental question in political economy, and a timely one given recent interest in understanding “NIMBYism” and the political influence of homeowners. We combine deed-level data on homeownership with administrative data on voter turnout in local and national elections for more than 18 million individuals in Ohio and North Carolina. Using a difference-in-differences design, we find that buying a home leads individuals to participate substantially more in local elections, on average. We also collect data on local ballot initiatives, and we find that the homeowner turnout boost is almost twice as large in times and places where zoning issues are on the ballot. Additionally, the effect of homeownership increases with the price of the home purchase, suggesting that asset investment may be an important mechanism for the participatory effects. Overall, the results suggest that individual economic circumstances importantly influence political beliefs and behavior, and suggest that homeowners have special influence in American politics in part because their ownership motivates them to pay attention and to participate.
The study’s analysis of records from Ohio and North Carolina provides concrete evidence for an intuitive thesis: Homeowners, acting out of their own economic interests, turn out in greater numbers than renters to vote in elections. These homeowners vote to keep zoning and land-use regulations restrictive to preserve the value of their assets, keeping them wealthy at the expense of growth.
In addition to homeownership in general, the value of a voter’s home is also positively correlated with voter turnout. The authors find “that individuals with higher-valued assets are encouraged to participate even more in local elections.”
The study has implications for whether or not public policy should promote homeownership in the first place. “Because homeownership appears to change beliefs along with participation, policies that encourage homeownership may prop up existing status quos by creating a larger constituency in favor of restrictive zoning policies and other pro-homeowner policies that disadvantage those without property.”
While there are many reasons to dislike the promotion (read: subsidization) of homeownership, most of the arguments are economic. While the authors do not suggest their results imply these programs should be done away with, the political effects of homeownership, much like the ones of direct participation in local zoning meetings, show how greater participation can lead to bad policies through rent-seeking behavior by homeowners.