Saturday, May 06, 2023

Why did denser neighborhoods vote for the Regional Fire Authority?

Yesterday, the detailed precinct-by-precinct data for the recent April 25 election was released, and a certain trend became evident when I mapped out the results. This exercise serves as an essential reminder that even so-called "blowout" elections can have nuances that are crucial to comprehend if we aim to understand our community.

Here are the straightforward results by precinct (and the data I used):

What I see here is fairly straightforward. Downtown Olympia, the apartment complexes on the west and far east sides of Olympia, and likely Tumwater's most densely populated neighborhoods along Tumwater Hill, all voted in favor of the Regional Fire Authority. On the other hand, the nearby westside and southeast Olympia led the vote against the RFA.

When comparing the approval rates for the public art election last April to the RFA this spring on a map of Olympia (excluding downtown), the same pattern emerges. The far eastside and westside apartment precincts were the only areas in town where the RFA received more votes than the public art proposition.

The turnout maps for the April 2023 vote present a somewhat mixed bag at first glance. On this map, I noticed the high-density neighborhoods that voted for the RFA are represented on both sides of the turnout scale. However, the less dense neighborhoods tend to appear on the higher turnout side.

The pattern becomes even more apparent when focusing solely on the Olympia precincts that took part in the art proposition. In the map below, precincts that turned out more for art last year are depicted in blue, while those that turned out more for fire are in red.

These maps reveal an interesting pattern. In general, precincts that turned out more in favor of the RFA (versus art) tended to vote more in favor of the RFA. This conclusion is supported by the chart below, which demonstrates this trend quite clearly:

Essentially, the precincts that voted against the RFA likely did so because of a general lack of turnout. In those precincts, people may have returned a ballot for the arts, but chose to hold onto their ballots for the fire vote. 

Additionally, I want to revisit the topic of how apartment dwellers voted, as it relates to the messaging of the "Save our Fire Departments" (or No on Prop 1) campaign. The opponents of the RFA highlighted the higher costs that apartment dwellers would pay under the proposed formula to finance the RFA. However, this argument seems to have fallen on deaf ears, possibly due to where the No campaign focused its outreach. It's worth noting that this argument didn't resonate with its intended audience, as evidenced by the approval and turnout maps.

Okay, but really, why?

I've seen general observations that apartment dwellers fear fire more than people who live in single family homes. And that makes inherent sense, I suppose. But I haven't found any polling or research that backs this assumption up.


Anonymous said...

The assumption that people who live in apartments fear fire more is a leap. Due to codes most apartments have a fire suppression system and emergency exit strategy that probably creates a sense of awareness, not necessarily fear. Also due to a denser population more people witness their neighbors receiving emergency medical support—which are the majority of fire department calls. This also gives people a sense of familiarity and confidence in their fire departments. Folks living in apartments see how hard firefighters work and generally are appreciative so when they saw familiar firefighters supporting the RFA they got behind them.

Anonymous said...

PS—I would be interested to see the election data compared against a map of NextDoor engagement.

Anonymous said...

Might there be a correlation between home ownership rates and neighborhood density? If that’s the case, and if one assumes that homeowners are less likely to vote for tax increases, you’ve got the answer to your question. It would also be interesting to factor time into your data. In all the years I’ve live in Oly, this is the first time I can remember people voting against a tax increase. Are people just feeling the pinch?

Anonymous said...

I have definitely had a fire in an apartment but never in a house, and it was due to neighbors doing crazy shit that was contagious due to shared walls.

Russ L said...

Emmett, while the data analysis of turnout, and by precinct is interesting to know, it also has the potential of distraction. This measure lost, and lost big (in a town which does always vote for these type of measures) for some very important reasons, and the proponents would be well advised to look carefully at those reasons lest they continue the hubris which was exhibited from idea phase of this measure.