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Where Self-Interest Trumps Ideology: Liberal Homeowners and Local Opposition to Housing Development

How much does self-interest drive Americans’ policy attitudes? Survey research typically finds that self-interest’s role is minimal. Such conclusions are typically reached by examining attitudes toward federal policies that present diffuse costs and low stakes. We consider a starker test case of self-interest: controversies surrounding development of dense and affordable housing in Americans’ communities. Liberal homeowners, especially, must cope with dissonance between their egalitarian ideology and a desire to protect their home values and quality of life. They often embrace liberal housing goals and redistributive housing policies but join conservatives in opposing dense housing in their own communities. Two survey experiments show that liberal homeowners are cross-pressured and barely more likely than conservative homeowners to support dense housing development. Messages appealing to homeowners’ self-interest reduce support further, while countervailing appeals about housing’s benefits to low- and middle-income families barely offset the negative effect. We discuss implications for the politics of equal opportunity at the state and local level.