Apartments and voter participation, 1/28/2019

Posted on January 28, 2019

Are apartment-dwellers less likely to participate in civic life?  For example, are they less likely to vote?

As a person who lived in an apartment for years before moving to Vienna, I didn’t much like that assertion when I first heard it.  But this is a question that can be answered empirically, for the Town of Vienna.

And the answer has a bearing on the Town’s plan to convert Maple Avenue into high-density housing with token retail space (“mixed use”) via MAC development.

For the US as a whole, lower election participation by apartment residents is fairly well documented.  For the US, apartment residents are about half as likely to vote in US elections, and lower turnout was documented in at least one DC area location.

But what about here in Vienna?  That question can be answered easily, but a little crudely, by matching two lists.  One is a commercial mailing list for ZIP code 22180.  That represents the universe of addresses in Vienna, more-or-less.  (More-or-less, because a handful of true Town of Vienna addresses are in ZIP 22181 and a small section of ZIP code 22180 lies outside the Town boundary.)  The second is a list of voters in recent elections.  Apartments and condos were identified on both lists by any type of apartment or unit number in the address.

The results are so striking that none of the potential modest flaws in the matchup matter.

The answer is a clear yes:  Apartment dwellers in Vienna are much less likely to vote, compared to owners of single-family homes.  As shown below, apartment dwellers are about:

  • 34% as likely to register to vote
  • 25% as likely to vote in a national election
  • 10% as likely to vote in a Town election.

Probably that makes good economic sense.  If apartments are primarily for those who reside temporarily in the Town, a lack of investment in Town politics makes good sense.

So what does this have to do with MAC?  By bringing in large apartment blocks like 444 Maple West, MAC will  bring in a new population that is less politically engaged than the average current resident.  That’s just one way in which Vienna will be a different town once MAC has remade Maple Avenue.