Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Our latest Mineta Transportation Institute study

Today the Mineta Transportation Institute published a study Matt Kahn and I have been working on for the last couple of years, titled, California Voting and Suburbanization Patterns: Implications for Transit Policy.  The full report in PDF is here, a research brief is here, and a copy of the press release can be found here.

In this report, we study the effect of living in the suburbs on voting behavior, and we found that suburban households are more likely to vote against public transit infrastructure projects and environmental policies that seek to lower gasoline consumption and GHG emissions.  It is important to note that this result holds up to controls for political ideology; it is true that conservatives disproportionately live in the suburbs, but our results suggest that Democrats (Republicans) who live in the suburbs vote differently than Democrats (Republicans) who live in urban neighborhoods.

More immediately, our results concerning voting in California elections can help policy makers develop a better understanding of citizen preferences for public projects, and to better predict how future trends will shift support toward or against transit.

These results also suggest something interesting about "policy inertia".  Some policies, for example the home mortgage interest deduction, have encouraged more households to buy homes and move to the suburbs.  If moving to the suburbs then causes them to vote against public transit projects, this will further encourage suburbanization as public transit infrastructure is usually (though not always) a technology that favors urban neighborhoods.

We don't claim to have proven beyond a doubt that moving to the suburbs has such a causal effect.  However our statistical results are certainly consistent with the existence of a suburban voting effect, and moreover quantify its size.  In future research we plan to continue to explore these questions, but for now I am very happy that the work we've done over the last two years has been published.