During the Republican National Convention last month, the St. Louis homeowner Patricia McCloskey accused Joe Biden and his supporters of wanting to “spread chaos and violence into our communities.” She and her husband, Mark, had gained national notoriety in June for waving guns at Black Lives Matter protesters who were filing past their house in a gated neighborhood. The Democrats, Patricia McCloskey said in her convention speech, “want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family-home zoning.” Changing local land-use regulations, she said, would “bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into now-thriving suburban neighborhoods.” Donald Trump, both McCloskeys said, would prevent this. On Twitter, the president himself has been stoking the same fears.
As a political scientist who has studied local land-use regulations, I’m surprised to see a national political campaign in 2020 place such an emphasis on the issue—which hasn’t figured much in presidential races in half a century. The Trump campaign isn’t wrong to think that white suburban voters—the obvious target of the McCloskeys’ speech—would oppose apartment construction in their neighborhoods. In a nationally representative survey of metropolitan areas that I conducted last year, a substantial majority of homeowners revealed a strong preference for single-family development and opposition to apartments. They also overwhelmingly agreed that residents of a community should get a vote on what is built there.