Monthly condensed analyses of crucial real estate and economic issues offered by UCLA Anderson Forecast and UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. Here, Deirdre A. Pfeiffer, Jake Wegmann and Alex Schafran explore data connecting neighborhood conditions and voter preferences.

Deirdre A. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., AICP, is a visiting scholar for the Ziman Center’s UCLA Gilbert Program in Real Estate, Finance and Urban Economics. Jake Wegmann is an assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Alex Schafran is a lecturer at the University at Leeds. This Economic Letter is adapted from their recent research summary published in Urban Affairs Forum.

The election of President Trump in November 2016 came as a surprise to many. Analysts attributed Trump’s election to various factors, such as hostility towards immigrants and racial minorities in white, working class communities that formerly supported Obama and Russian meddling in the election. However, an underexplored factor is the role that the recent housing downturn may have played in the election. There is research showing that Midwestern and Rustbelt counties with a higher percentage of underwater homes (i.e., owing more than the home is worth) were more likely to vote for Trump in 2016 than Romney in 2012.

Neighborhood conditions, such as concentrated foreclosures, may be overlooked factors in state and national election partisan shifts, like those that swept Trump into the presidency in 2016.

This suggests the question, how might housing downturns affect elections? Our research offers insight into this relationship by showing that neighborhoods harder hit by foreclosures in the Phoenix region between 2006 and 2010 were more likely to exhibit anti-incumbent voting behavior—a dynamic that might also have been instrumental in helping President Trump get elected six years later.

We arrived at this discovery by putting together a rich data set on foreclosures, voting outcomes, and neighborhood conditions to explore the relationships among neighborhood foreclosures, voter turnout, and partisan shifts in several races. These included precinct-level election results from Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix, in the 2006 and 2010 Arizona gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

We then used statistical methods to investigate two ways that housing downturns may relate to political shifts within neighborhoods: 1) through declines in voter turnout among more liberal leaning African Americans and Latinos, who were more affected by foreclosures and faced higher barriers to voting; and 2) through a punishment mechanism, where voters turned against incumbent political parties for the degrading effects that foreclosures had on their families and communities. We focus on the link between foreclosures and one voting outcome—the change in the share of the vote going to the Republicans, who were incumbents in both races in 2010.

Although we did not find clear evidence linking a decline in liberal voter turnout to foreclosure, our results showed strong evidence of anti-incumbent voting behavior in neighborhoods harder hit by foreclosures. An increase of about 50 foreclosures for every 1,000 homes within a neighborhood was associated with a one-percentage point decline in the incumbent political party’s share of the vote from 2006 to 2010. This association held even after comparing neighborhoods with similar demographic and socioeconomic conditions.

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