More Foreclosures in a Community Means Lower Voter Turnout, Says Study

Categories: Housing, Science
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History will eventually figure out the social implications of the foreclosure crisis -- its longterm effect on the wealth gap between minorities and white people, its role in gentrification, its impact on an already shrinking middle class, whether it permanently alters the popular conception of the American Dream, etc.

Some early returns are in. A study by social scientists at UC Riverside concluded that neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates tend to have lower voter turnout.

"Foreclosure Depresses Voter Turnout: Neighborhood Disruption and the 2008 Presidential Election in California," authored by sociologist Vanesa Estrada-Correa and political scientist Martin Johnson and published in Social Science Quarterly, offered two factors that explain how foreclosures drive down civic participation: community instability and the anxiety over paying the mortgage on a house with a free-falling market value.

The researchers compared voter turnout in the 2008 election and foreclosure data in California by zip code. According to the university, the study is "believed to be the first to assess the effect of foreclosure on political participation." And the link might be even deeper than the data showed.

The 2008 election probably doesn't tell the full story of how foreclosures impact voter turnout. Because part of the potential impact was likely counter-balanced by the man on the Democratic side of the ballot.

Foreclosures have hit minority communities disproportionately hard. Still, minorities came out to vote for President Barack Obama at unprecedented levels.

"We expect the 2012 election will reveal even more about the cumulative impact of neighborhood change resulting from the past five years of economic crisis," Estrada-Correa said in UC Riverside's media release.

The way foreclosures affect voting patterns mirrors the causes for the generally low voter turnout in low-income communities. It's Maslow's Pyramid 101: When your mind is focused on getting extra shifts to pay the rent or draining your savings to cover the rising interests rates that doubled your monthly mortgage payment, registering to vote can slip past the filters.

The anxiety is contagious within a community, creating a vicious cycle of diminishing voter activity. Like anything else in life, voting habits can be shaped by the behavior in a person's social circle.

"Other things being equal, individuals are more likely to vote when they live in places where neighbors vigorously participate in politics, while individuals are less likely to vote when their neighbors are less civically active," the paper, which controlled for socioeconomic and educational variables, stated. "Given that foreclosure creates instability in communities, areas that experience higher levels of foreclosure have lower voter turnout."

Could be good news for Mitt Romney. While the candidate has suggested that he is open to the idea of helping people get loan modifications, his most specific position on housing policy has been, "Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up, and let it turn around and come back up." Which would hurt underwater homeowners.

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I don't think the foreclosure crisis is as indicative of a separation between minorities and whites as it is a separation of the have-a-lots and the have-nones. The initial victims of the foreclosure crisis were those who lost their jobs first — jobs in fields like construction, predominantly minorities. Now, the problem lies with underwater homeowners, who are victims of the Ponzi scheme that our housing market has become. But these people are not just black, not just white, not just hispanic, but simply middle class Americans who lived within their means. Unfortunately, their means were defined by a greedy few who ended up hedging their bets against the very people they issued mortgages to.


For the average middle class American looking to refinance at today's rates, closing costs are outrageous. For the wealthy few (who just so happen to be male and white), you can get a 1.05 percent interest rate (hintZuckerberghint).


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