Does becoming a property owner motivate individuals to participate differently in local politics? In these American cities, the answer is yes

In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Tyler Steelman, covers the new article by Jesse Yoder, Stanford University, “Does Property Ownership Lead to Participation in Local Politics? Evidence from Property Records and Meeting Minutes
Political participation of citizens is vital to American government. Each year, hundreds of millions of Americans are asked to vote in local, state, and federal elections. In addition, Americans have the opportunity to comment on issues before city councils and contribute to candidates running for office throughout the country.

Americans, though, do not participate in politics at equal rates. Some groups are known to be more likely to participate in politics than others. Americans with higher incomes, for example, are more likely to vote than those in who earn lower incomes. The same disparity exists between property owners and non-property owners. And while property owners are also more likely to be politically active than those that do not, what is less understood is how the transition to property ownership changes how one participates.

Jesse Yoder investigates the changing power of becoming a property owner in his new APSR article: “Does Property Ownership Lead to Participation in Local Politics? Evidence from Property Records and Meeting Minutes.”  Yoder shows that becoming a property owner changes how one engages in politics. Property owners are more likely to be registered to vote, are more likely to cast a vote in an election, and are more likely to donate to a candidate running for office than those who do not own property.

Americans with higher incomes, for example, are more likely to vote than those in who earn lower incomes.

Property ownership has an interesting history in American politics.

According to some early American thinkers, political participation should have been reserved only for those who owned property. In fact, until the mid-1800s, owning property was a requirement to vote in many states. While owning property may no longer be required to cast a ballot, there are lasting differences in how property owners participate in politics compared to those that do not own property. Specifically, property owners tend to be older and are more likely to be men than non-property owners.

To dive deeper into how property ownership shapes political participation, Yoder combines several sources of data that cover a range of political action. These data include voting records, property ownership files, minutes from local city council elections, and records of campaign contributions.  Yoder’s analysis is based on the data of 3.5 million Americans living in Palo Alto, California and Dallas and Houston, Texas from 2000-2017.

Before examining how becoming a property owner changes political participation, Yoder offers some insight into the different behaviors between property owners and non-property owners. One key area of difference is commenting at local city council elections. In 2002 alone, 75% of Palo Alto residents who made a comment at a city council election were property owners.

The differences between the two groups does not stop there.

In fact, differences abound between the two groups. Yoder’s analysis shows that property owners are more likely to be registered to vote, are more likely to vote in local and national elections, and are more likely to contribute to political campaigns.

Becoming a property owner in these cities increases one’s likelihood of voting in local elections and increases the likelihood of donating to a candidate running for political office.

Yoder’s unique dataset allows him to go beyond comparing property owners to non-property owners. Because of the long period of time used in his analysis, Yoder can examine how becoming a property owner changes one’s political participation. Using participation at local city council elections as an example, an individual in Palo Alto, California is almost twice as likely to comment at a city council election after they become a property owner than when they did not own property. This suggests that becoming a property owner has measurable changes on how one behaves politically.

Similar patterns also exist in other forms of political participation. Becoming a property owner in these cities increases one’s likelihood of voting in local elections and increases the likelihood of donating to a candidate running for political office.

Questions of property ownership and housing policy are ever-present in American politics—at both the local and national levels. Soaring housing prices and rent payments have pushed property issues to the forefront of political campaigns and legislative agendas, alike. Because of this, questions surrounding property ownership as a motivator of political participation will continue to arise. As new property owners continue to appear across the country, Yoder calls us to think about how becoming a property owner might change their behavior even more.


  • Tyler Steelman is a PhD candidate in American Politics and Political Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research focus includes the study of surrogate representation and the development of legislative districts using ZIP codes in the United States. His work has been published in the Election Law JournalInterest Groups and Advocacy, and The Monkey Cage.
  • Article details: American Political Science ReviewVolume 114Issue 4, November 2020 , pp. 1213-1229
  • About the APSA Public Scholarship Program

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*