With the foreclosure crisis continuing to impact individuals and communities across the country, understanding the extent of its effect on political life is tantamount. In this paper, we ask how political behaviors are influenced by the economic adversities created by this crisis: loss of home, loss of resources, and perhaps loss of political efficacy. Previous research on economic adversity focuses almost exclusively on unemployment. Here we explore the demobilizing effects of foreclosures at the individual level, community levels, and the intersection of individuals nested in communities. With a unique dataset that matches voter file data to a database on individual foreclosures, we show that the foreclosure crisis was associated with a decline in voter turnout, both individually and for those in neighborhoods hit harder by the foreclosure crisis. We find that homeowners facing the loss of their homes were less likely to go to the polls. Consistent with previous research, we also show that turnout was suppressed in neighborhoods with higher rates of foreclosure. Taken together, our results suggest that political elites were less likely to hear from constituents most directly impacted by the foreclosure crisis.
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They find similar results in a separate multilevel analysis that nests individuals in zipcodes; the likelihood of going to the ballot box fell by 0.012 points for a one standard deviation increase in the foreclosure rate of the voter’s zipcode, a slight drop in participation, but comparable in size to a one standard deviation shift in the proportion of the population living in poverty or holding a bachelor’s degree.
There is some evidence that economic hardship can increase political engagement when it is sufficiently politicized and de-personalized. For example, Burden and Wichowsky’s (2014) study of unemployment suggests that economic downturns might stimulate greater attention to political information and vigilance in attributing blame, thus making it more likely that individuals vote; this might be particularly the case in times of high unemployment (see Incantalupo 2011).
Voter file information was purchased from L2Decisions (http://votermapping.com) and includes estimates of additional covariates including race/ethnicity, income, education, age, and homeownership. They use Census block-level data and other financial and lifestyle data to create estimates of demographic information.
We thank the Fiscal and Economic Research Center (FERC) at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for providing us access to these data. Because data are often missing in real estate websites such as Zillow, FERC has carefully coded each foreclosure filing for the state of Wisconsin between 2006 and 2012.
We assign those with missing data the median value and create a dummy indicator for missingness for age, education and income.
As expected, prior turnout is a strong predictor of voting participation, and compared to non-Hispanic whites, the likelihood of voting participation was lower among Latino and Asian registered voters. Consistent with the diminishing black-white gap in voter turnout nationally (Taylor and Lopez 2013), we find no statistically significant turnout differences between black and white registered voters in our sample. Full results are available in Appendix A.
See Appendix Table D for imbalance corrections. Coarsened Exact Matching takes into account missingness in variables.
We did not match on contextual measures of foreclosures because we were interested in testing whether turnout was also affected by the neighborhood’s foreclosure rate.
We follow Pew Research Center’s definition of low-income, middle-income and high-income (see Pew Research Center 2016).
Michener (2013) finds that under some conditions, perceptions of disorder (higher in lower-income neighborhoods) can spark greater engagement, increasing the likelihood of attending a community meeting. However, when it comes to engagement with formal political authorities, the relationship is curvilinear (likely reflecting concerns about, and experiences with, law enforcement), and objective measures of disorder remain negatively correlated with political engagement.
We estimate predicted probabilities for a non-Hispanic white homeowner who voted in the 2008 presidential election, holding all other variables at their means.
In 2009, Common Ground, an affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), began a massive campaign to address the foreclosure crisis in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood, an area with some of the region’s highest rates of black homeownership. Their efforts galvanized residents, and in response to substantial community organizing efforts, tens of millions of dollars have been reinvested in the neighborhood to help rehabilitate foreclosed properties and restore the housing market in Sherman Park. Common Ground and other organizations conducted GOTV campaigns in these same neighborhoods in 2012.
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Shah, P., Wichowsky, A. Foreclosure’s Fallout: Economic Adversity and Voter Turnout. Polit Behav 41, 1099–1115 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9509-x
- Voter turnout
- Political inequality