Did Policy Features Drive California Voters' Preferences for School Parcel Taxes, 1997-2010?

Heather Harper, University of California, San Diego
Jennifer Nations, University of California, San Diego

Political sociologists increasingly recognize the important role that policy characteristics play in the political process. Policy characteristics are especially important when elected officials ask voters to approve state and local taxes. The details of who will be taxed, what they will pay, what will be funded, and how often voters will be consulted about the process can affect voter support for taxes. We further research in this field by applying a new technique for identifying the policy characteristics most correlated with voter support for new taxes. We apply supervised principal component analysis to an original data set of 302 proposed school district parcel taxes from California school districts between the years of 1997 and 2010. Starting from 668 original terms, our 44-term model identifies two dimensions of school district tax policy that correlate with voter approval: familiarity and school improvement. After applying a set of political and demographic control variables, we find that the inclusion of these policy dimensions substantially adds to our ability to predict voter support. After taking into account district-level fixed effects, our predictive ability increases by nearly 8% and the two dimensions remain statistically significant. The interpretation of the two dimensions suggests that voters prefer taxes they already understand, likely because they have previously paid them, and prefer to support basic improvements to schooling over extracurriculars.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 208. Fighting for Access, Equity, and Funding: American Public Schools and Fiscal Policy