Back in the early days of this blog, we had frequent posts about the differences between Republican or Democratic voters and Republican or Democratic areas.
This was something that confused lots of political journalists, most notably Michael Barone (see, for example, here) and Tucker Carlson (here), also academics such as psychologist Jonathan Haidt (here) and political scientist David Runciman (here) and various others over the years.
I’ve attributed some of this conclusion to a second-order availability bias.
Anyway, I haven’t thought much about this red-state blue-state thing recently (indeed, I’m on record as saying that “red state blue state is over”; see item 16 of this article).
But then I came across this amusing story from Jordan Ellenberg:
A lot of affluent liberals in Montgomery County, outside Washington, D.C., fiercely opposed a plan to build a little more affordable housing. “Affordable is not what people move here for,” one of them told me.
The plan in question was approved unanimously by the County Council, all nine of whom were Democrats, but, as Appelbaum reported, not everyone in progressive Montgomery County was happy about it. He quoted several residents making remarks that made them look like, well, uptight snobs:
Ellen Paul, 59, said in-law suites were bad enough: “It’s changing suburbia to allow two homes on each lot. You’ll have strangers walking by your house all the time now.”
“That’s where the backyard trailers are going to go,” said Dale Barnhard, one of the more than 1,500 people who signed a petition opposing the “dramatic” change in rules.
One county resident, Katherine C. Gugulis, wrote a protest letter in The Washington Post that concluded, “Just because others flee crime-ridden and poverty-stricken areas doesn’t mean Montgomery County has to be turned into a slum to accommodate them.”
I [Ellenberg] was interested in these affluent liberals and wanted to learn about them. A few minutes of Googling later, here’s what I found out. Katherine Gangulis is a Republican appointed official. Ellen Paul, according to her public LinkedIn profile, is a former staff assistant to a Republican member of the House of Representatives, and her most recent listed activity was public relations for a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education in 2014. Dale Barnhard doesn’t have any political career, as far as I know, but he wrote a letter to the Washington Post last year complaining about their biased coverage of Donald Trump. Hessie Harris, who worries aloud in Appelbaum’s piece about “flophouses” and literally utters the words “There goes the neighborhood,” is listed by the FEC as contributing thousands of dollars a year to Americans for Legal Immigration; that’s a PAC which describes its mission as “our fight AGAINST the costly and deadly illegal immigration & illegal immigrant invasion of America.”
These people aren’t liberals! . . .
Interesting. I guess it makes sense that the sort of people who would show up at such a meeting are middle-aged and elderly “get off my lawn” types. I wonder how the NYT reporter picked these particular people to interview. It makes you realize how many reportorial degrees of freedom are involved in writing a story. By choosing who to interview, you can create whatever impression you want. That’s what’s funny about the discrepancy that Ellenberg noted. The reporter up and chose a bunch of conservative Republicans to interview, but still didn’t notice what he was doing! Blinders. Maybe next time he can have his wife contact people to get a good random sample—I’ve heard that’s how they do this sort of thing at Stanford.
The uncontrolled nature of person-on-the-street interviews is one reason that we like to conduct opinion polls. I did some googling and couldn’t find any national opinion polls about nimby or development, but I did find this story from California regarding a poll taken earlier this year on a state senate bill favoring denser development:
Responses were based off of the following summary of the legislation: “Senate Bill 50 would change state law to allow more homes like apartments, townhouses, and triplexes, including affordable housing for lower—and middle—income families, near public transit lines like buses or trains, and in areas with a lot of jobs.”
Seventy-nine percent of renters said they support the proposal. Among homeowners polled, support came in at 56 percent.
As in previous polling, the law is more popular with Democrats than with Republicans, with 76 and 55 percent support respectively.
Ironically, I navigated to this article via a link from an op-ed entitled, “America’s Cities Are Unlivable. Blame Wealthy Liberals.” I think what’s going on here is that reporters are reacting to expectations. Dense development is opposed by conservatives—but that’s no surprise. Opposition by liberals—that’s a surprise, hence news. That makes sense but it can lead to confusion (as we’ve seen in the writings of Michael Barone etc). The residents of Montgomery County and San Francisco are, on average, wealthy and liberal. But not all the wealthy people in these counties are liberal.