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By Steve Meyer, Vero Beach, FL
What do real estate and elections have in common?
Surprisingly, a lot! Leftists have been on a decades-long undertaking to compromise real estate markets. These efforts go by various names, but they are commonly referred to in the context of “smart growth” and “sustainability”.
Owing to the election losses experienced by Republicans in the 2017 election, there is some panic developing in Republican quarters concerning the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Comparing the political situation in the state of Florida, to that of New Jersey and Virginia, two states where Republicans fared poorly in 2017, allows Republicans to better understand the nature of the 2017 losses and what they can do to improve Republican fortunes in the future.
Let’s consider the idea of habitat, a common concept in terms of the natural environment. Here however we will apply habitat to politics.
Rental housing is Democrat habitat. This does not suggest that all renters are Democrat voters, but it is generally true enough for it to be rare to find a Republican representing an electorate where the home ownership rate is less than 60%.
Republican habitat is owner-occupied housing. This does not suggest that all home owners vote Republican, but it is generally true enough for it to be rare to find anyone but a Republican representing electorates with home ownership rates over 80%.
Also of note is that the changes in vote discussed here are very small on an annual basis, but cumulative. Incremental annual changes of this kind go unnoticed by traditional strategists, but overtime these small annual changes become formidable political forces.
If we use the 1988 election, an election that predated most of the left’s efforts to compromise real estate markets as the base year for long-term comparisons, the concept will become clear.
In Virginia and Florida the long-term Republican market share losses accruing from 1988 through 2012 were remarkably similar and remarkably unfortunate. Republicans carried the state of Florida by 22.36% in the 1988 presidential election and the state was lost in 2012 by .88%, a total market share loss of 23.24% for Republicans.
Similarly in Virginia, Republicans went from a 20.50% win in 1988 to a deficit of 3.87% in 2012, a market share loss of 24.37%. To put an even finer point on it, annual Republican market share losses of roughly 1% over the 24 year period between elections changed Florida and Virginia from being Republican juggernauts into states that the Republicans could not carry.
Then something remarkable happened in Florida between the 2012 and 2016 elections.
In that period Florida reversed its poor trend and became 2.07% more Republican in 2016 than it was in 2012. Ultimately Florida gave President Trump a 1.19% margin of victory. Virginia however continued its downward spiral from 2012 through 2016 as Republican margins slid another 1.45% resulting in a 2016 Republican defeat of 5.32%. Florida was able to reverse its trend by eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs in 2011, a department whose existence limited the building of owner-occupied homes.
Why would housing policies have such a significant effect on politics?
Let’s consider the most significant Republican demographic: married homeowners. When home prices are high, the young are generally not as able to afford a home, therefore muting both home ownership and family formation. Where high homes prices exist, the young tend to remain in the Democrat demographics of singles and renters.
The correlation between Republican election success and state median home prices is readily observable. In nine of the ten states with the highest median home prices (Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California, Delaware, and Washington) the Democrat nominee carried the 2016 presidential election. With the inclusion of Alaska, the only state of the ten carried by President Trump, the average margin of victory for Mrs. Clinton in these ten states was 15.61%.
On the other hand, nine of the ten states with the lowest median home price (Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina) were carried by President Trump. With the inclusion of New Mexico, the only state of the ten carried by Mrs. Clinton, the average margin of victory for President Trump was 23.21% in these ten states. The difference in average vote margins of these two groupings based on median home price was an astounding 38.82%!
When we compare the Republican habitat of Florida and Virginia we see that the respective median home prices in the two states are $159,000, and $245,000. This makes Florida much more affordable and facilitates the conversion of previously Democrat voters into becoming Republican voters.
Another way to observe the political importance of home ownership is to examine building permit data.
Those areas that limit the issuing of building permits for owner-occupied housing become less Republican over time. Florida’s population is 20.6 million. The combined population of Virginia (8.4 million) and New Jersey (8.9 million) is 17.3 million; about 84% of Florida’s population. New Jersey (26,793 permits) and Virginia (31,132permits) combined issued 57,925 building permits in 2016, whereas Florida’s 116,240 building permits more than doubled that amount in the same time frame.
Also of note is that Florida is home to 6.38% of the nation’s population, but 9.63% of the nation’s building permits were issued in Florida in 2016. New Jersey and Virginia are home to 5.35% of the nation’s population, but the two states accounted for just 4.80% of the nation’s 2016 building permits.
Unfortunately for making comparisons, Virginia does not register voters by political party, but the political effects of permitting are observable by comparing voter registrations in New Jersey and Florida.
In the time between the 2016 elections and the 2017 elections, Florida Republicans improved their registrations relative to Democrat registrations by 57,996 registrations while New Jersey Republicans saw their position relative to that of the Democrats worsen by 16,870 registrations.
The mix of permits for rental housing and permits for owner-occupied housing also influences political habitat. Not only are Virginia and New Jersey issuing relatively fewer building permits than Florida, but their mix favoring the building of rental units over the building of owner-occupied homes also hurts Republican fortunes in these two states.
The takeaway from the 2017 election is for Florida Republicans to keep doing what they are doing, or in fact do even better by issuing even more building permits for owner-occupied housing.
Leading by example is always a good course of action, but in this case it is not enough.
The Republican norm is to disregard the concept of political habitat. In reality we need to inform others in the Party of the need to enhance Republican political strategy by concentrating more effort and resources on creating Republican habitat.
Please share this letter with your Republican associates, especially those in other states. Republicans, like all species, are only able to prosper when there is adequate habitat.
Republicans prosper in places such as Florida’s Sumter County (home of The Villages) with its 90% home ownership rate and they are not a factor in places like Florida’s Miami City with its 31% home ownership rate.
Republicans are not the party of the rich; Republicans are the party of private property and of those wishing to become propertied. Creating Republican habitat was the goal of the first Republican president when he signed the Homestead Act in 1862. It’s time for modern-day Republicans to get back up to speed!
Steve Meyer is a semi-retired engineer living in Vero with an interest in “the factors which influence the political orientations of electorates”
Mr. Meyer’s comments are his own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communiqué.