Some weeks ago, I was participating in a Zoom discussion on NIMBYism, and someone asked: are Republicans and conservatives more pro-housing than Democrats and liberals, or less so?
After examining some poll data, I discovered that the answer depends on how the question is asked. A 2023 Yougov poll asked respondents to choose between two alternative views: “People should be free to buy land and develop real estate where they please” and “The government should limit where people are allowed to build things.” 64 percent of Republicans favored the free-market option, as opposed to only 47 percent of Democrats.
Similarly, a 2023 California poll asked Californians whether state government should “ease current land use and environmental restrictions to increase the supply of housing.” 64 percent of Republicans favored less regulation, as opposed to only 48 percent of Democrats. Similarly, 62 percent of conservatives and only 49 percent of liberals favored less regulation. Thus, it seems that where development issues are framed as a choice between government regulation and freedom, Democrats are more pro-regulation and Republicans more pro-freedom.
Where questions about regulation exclude the magic word “government”, partisan differences become a bit narrower. A July 2022 Yougov poll asked about removing “Regulations and codes that prevent developers from constructing more housing”. Republicans favored the free-market answer by a 43-40% margin, while Democrats disagreed by a 45-38% margin.
Polls that don’t directly reference regulation sometimes show that Democrats are more pro-housing. For example, a June 2022 Yougov poll asked respondents whether more apartments should be built: 83 percent of Democrats said yes, as opposed to 68 percent of Republicans. When asked whether more apartments should be built in respondents’ “local area”, the Democratic percentage dropped to 74 percent, and the Republican percentage to 50 percent.
When a poll asks generally about “density” and “development” rather than about apartments or homes or government regulation, poll support collapses among both Democrats and Republicans. The July 2022 Yougov poll asked about “Changing zoning practices to allow for more high-density development”. Only 39 percent of Democrats favored this idea, and an even smaller percentage of Republicans (24 percent) agreed.
A more idiosyncratic question, from Echelon Insights,asked respondents to choose between “building more housing in high-demand areas by reducing regulatory and zoning requirements, including affordable housing options close to public transit” and giving “current residents more of a say over new housing development in their communities to ensure property values don’t go down and existing neighborhood character is preserved.” This format, in addition to being grammatically questionable,* showed higher support for the latter alternative, perhaps because a) the anti-market alternative was about the interests of “current residents” instead of government planners and b) giving current residents “more of a say” sounds somewhat innocuous. With this phrasing, only 26 percent of Republicans favored the pro-market answer, as opposed to 47 percent of Democrats.
In sum, public opinion on new housing depends on how the issue is framed. Polls that emphasize freedom, government regulation, and environmental concerns tend to show that Republicans favor less regulation. On the other hand, polls that emphasize conflicts over density and development tend to show that Democrats are more pro-housing.
*Because it could be interpreted to mean that building more housing included “reducing… affordable housing close to public transit” OR to mean that “building more housing in high demand areas” included building “affordable housing close to public transit.”