My research indicates that the smaller spatial scale of institutions may change political behavior in ways that prevent the development of needed public goods, such as housing and public health infrastructure. In short, the design of political institutions can subvert representation and collective action around the siting of things society needs, but nobody wants nearby.
When does self-interest influence public opinion on contentious public policies? The bulk of theory in political science suggests that self-interest is only a minor force in public opinion. Using nationally-representative survey data, we show how financial and spatial self-interest and partisanship all shape public opinion on opioid treatment policy. We find that a majority of respondents support a redistributive funding model for treatment programs, while treatment funded by taxation based on a community's overdose rate is less popular. Moreover, financial self-interest cross-pressures lower-income Republicans, closing the partisan gap in support by more than half. We also experimentally test how the spatial burden of siting treatment clinics alters policy preferences. People across the political spectrum are less supportive when construction of a clinic is proposed closer to their home. These results highlight how partisanship and self-interest interact in shaping preferences on public policy with concentrated burdens.
How does spatial scale affect support for public policy? Does supporting housing citywide but ``Not In My Back Yard'' (NIMBY) help explain why housing has become increasingly difficult to build in once affordable cities? I use two original surveys to measure how support for new housing varies between the city-scale and neighborhood-scale. Together, an exit poll of 1,660 voters during the 2015 San Francisco election and a national survey of over 3,000 respondents provide the first empirical measurements of NIMBYism at the individual-level. While homeowners are sensitive to housing's proximity, renters typically do not express NIMBYism. However, in high-rent cities, renters demonstrate NIMBYism on par with homeowners, despite continuing to support large increases in the housing supply citywide. These scale-dependent preferences not only help explain the deepening affordability crisis, but show how institutions can undersupply even widely supported public goods. When preferences are scale-dependent, the scale of decision making matters.
Recent studies find that high levels of black-white segregation increased rates of foreclosures and subprime lending across US metropolitan areas during the housing crisis. These studies speculate that segregation created distinct geographic markets that enabled subprime lenders and brokers to leverage the spatial proximity of minorities to disproportionately target minority neighborhoods. Yet, the studies do not explicitly test whether the concentration of subprime loans in minority neighborhoods varied by segregation levels. We address this shortcoming by integrating neighborhood-level data and spatial measures of segregation to examine the relationship between segregation and subprime lending across the 100 largest US metropolitan areas.
While the institutions that structure spatial representation vary widely across U.S. municipalities, the distributive consequences of local electoral rules have not been adequately studied through a spatial lens. We leverage the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which compelled over one hundred cities to switch from at-large to district elections for city council, to causally identify how equalizing spatial representation changes the permitting of new housing. District elections decrease the supply of new multifamily housing, particularly in segregated cities with sizable and systematically underrepresented minority groups. But we also find evidence that district elections end the disproportionate channeling of new housing into minority neighborhoods. Our findings highlight a trade-off: at-large representation may facilitate the production of goods with diffuse benefits and concentrated costs, but it does so by forcing less politically powerful constituencies to bear the brunt of those costs.
How do the identities of potential policy beneficiaries sway public support for these policies in a public health setting? Using a factorial randomized vignette experiment fielded on a high-quality nationally-representative survey sample, we show that the racial identity, gender, and residential location of substance users depicted in a news story shape public opinion on policies to address the opioid overdose crisis. People display biases in favor of members of their own racial and residential identity groups that manifest in their support of treatment-based policies. However, group identity-based biases are less uniform in attitudes towards punitive policies to address the opioid crisis. We show that these biases are unlikely to be explained by the common theoretic mechanism of differential perceived blame. These results highlight the centrality of group identities in the formation of public policy preferences.