Voter Participation in Lowell
Late yesterday afternoon I traveled to Middlesex Community College for a presentation on a study on “voter participation demographics in Lowell, Massachusetts” conducted by Professor Marcos Luna and his graduate students in the Department of Geography at Salem State University (the full study is available HERE). Luna was attracted to Lowell through the efforts of One Lowell and its Executive Director, Victoria Fahlberg (for whom last night’s event may have been her last official act at One Lowell since she recently announced her departure from the organization). Fahlberg and other politically-aware Lowellians supplied Luna with historic voter data which Luna blended with information from the 2000 US census (the most recent one available) and GIS technology. The term “GIS” stands for Geographic Information System which is software that allows the user to display data on maps.
The goal of the study was to “look at geographic patterns of voter participation over time.” The Salem State team also looked for “demographic factors that could be predictive” of future voter participation. The higher the percentage of foreign born residents or “linguistically isolated” households (i.e., no one in the house speaks English), the lower the rate of voting. The higher the education and income, the higher the rate of voting. While these may not be startling revelations to anyone who follows Lowell politics, this study has great value because it moves beyond “gut feeling” and reaches the “quantifiable evidence” stage.
There was one revelation that surprised me: Length of residency in a particular area had the strongest correlation to voter participation. Put another way, the longer people stayed in the same neighborhood, the more likely they were to vote. And, this held true whether they were home owners or renters. I found this particularly important because if you speak with educators, they will tell you that children who stay in the same schools over long stretches of time outperform those who move frequently. By shaping our housing policy to emphasize “tenure” at an address therefore, we might be able to improve academic performance and voter participation at the same time.
When asked what further information he would add to the study if he had unlimited resources, Professor Luna said that he’d employ a large team of canvassers to go into the neighborhoods with a survey and obtain information directly from residents that would buttress these findings. But he emphasized that such an undertaking should not be the exclusive domain of university researchers who tend to “parachute into the community, conduct their research, then leave.” Rather, it should be a team effort using the expertise of the academics combined with the passion and connectedness of residents of the community. Hopefully last evening’s presentation will mark the beginning of such an effort by Lowell residents.
2 Responses to Voter Participation in Lowell
A link to the full report can be found here: http://www.onelowell.net/?p=215
This report sets the baseline. I’m looking forward to continuing a public discussion on how to increase broad participation, and improve representation, across Lowell.
I hope all the neighborhood groups are digging into the data. I will be working on a small tour to get this study out for Lowellians to see for themselves.
“I found this particularly important because if you speak with educators, they will tell you that children who stay in the same schools over long stretches of time outperform those who move frequently. By shaping our housing policy to emphasize “tenure” at an address therefore, we might be able to improve academic performance and voter participation at the same time.”
I think we shouldn’t confuse agency here. Residents are more likely to vote if they feel they have both a short-term and a long-term interest which compels them. It can be intuited that residents who have a longer tenure at their current residence are also likely to stay there, or believe that they will remain there for quite some time. In other words, a person’s decision to participate or not depends more on their perceived stake in their neighborhood and city–their view of the future–than does their current condition–their residence in the present.
You have two kinds of moves: forced and willful. You can create a housing policy that mitigates the former to some degree, but the latter requires a much more complicated and complementary policy of incentivizing residents to stay; in essence, giving them reason to believe that a positive future awaits in their respective neighborhood–a good education for their kids, a job nearby, safety, and an equitable provision of city services. You can see, then, how looking at housing policy alone would take the matter out of context. The decision to stay in a home, for instance, might be the excellent school belonging to a particular neighborhood. The child’s performance, then, is more a reflection of the school than as a product of having stayed in that home. And we know, too, that education correlates to voter participation, so we can see that in this context, while the tenure in a home might bear out empirically and seem to statistically correspond to both academic performance and voter participation, it is more probably the underlying and collaborating elements of the politeia that contribute to these products.