Differing COVID-19 vaccination rates are about more than just politics

For months, journalists have documented the connection between conservative political beliefs and hesitancy (if not outright opposition) to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Certainly, partisanship does play a strong role in Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Take Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties, for instance. Milwaukee is deep blue. Biden defeated Trump 69% to 29%. Ozaukee is one of the WOW counties–the historic stronghold of the Wisconsin Republican party. Trump defeated Biden there by 55% to 43%.

Knowing nothing else about southeastern Wisconsin, you might be forgiven for guessing that Milwaukee would enjoy a higher vaccination rate. In fact, 70% of adults in Ozaukee County are fully vaccinated, compared with 60% in Milwaukee. Across the United States, 88 counties have a higher adult vaccination rate than Ozaukee. Milwaukee ranks 307th.

This discrepancy probably doesn’t surprise anyone who lives in either of these counties. The partisan gap between Milwaukee and Ozaukee voters is more a symptom of their differences than a cause of them. Ozaukee is one of the richest counties in the country, Milwaukee one of the poorest. Ozaukee’s advantages extend beyond income.

“Social capital” is a term that captures many things. Chief among them is the idea of “collective efficacy”–a widespread belief that working together can effectively achieve shared goals. Popularized by Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, social capital can be measured in different ways. But one recent effort to create “social capital index” for each U.S. county ranked Ozaukee 22nd and Milwaukee 1,885th.

I collected 5 statistics for each county in the United States, each of which I suspected might have some influence on COVID-19 vaccination rates. They are:

  • 2020 presidential election results
  • 2020 Census self-response rates
  • each county’s social capital index score
  • share of the population living below the poverty line
  • COVID-19 deaths per capita

Here are the simple scatter plots comparing each of these values with vaccination rates. In each graph, I’ve colored red and labeled the dots for Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties.

scatter plots showing the relationship between predictor variables and vaccination rates

The correlation between 2020 vote choice and current vaccination rates is clear and strong, but many of these variables interact with each other in complex ways.

I ran a regression analysis testing each of these variables for an independent correlation with vaccination rates. First, I re-scaled each variable using z-score standardization. In other words, I subtracted the mean from each value, and divided by the standard deviation.

Here are the results of that regression. As expected, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains the largest and strongest predictor of vaccine behavior, but several other variables are also important predictors.

A 1-standard deviation increase in Biden’s margin of victory correlates with an 8 percentage point increase in the share of adults who are currently fully vaccinated.

A 1-standard deviation increase in the social capital index correlates with a 3 percentage point increase.

A 1-standard deviation increase in the COVID-19 deaths per capita correlates with a 0.9 percentage point increase in vaccinations.

A standard deviation increase in the poverty rate has essentially an equal and opposite effect on vaccinations as the same size increase in social capital.

When controlling for these other variables, census self-response rate is insignificant.

Dependent variable:
percent of adults who are fully vaccinated
Biden vote margin 8.167***
Census self-response -0.281
social capital index 3.132***
covid death rate 0.901***
poverty rate -3.040***
Constant 47.550***
Observations 2,068
R2 0.590
Adjusted R2 0.590
Residual Std. Error 7.475 (df = 2062)
F Statistic 594.681*** (df = 5; 2062)
Note: *p<0.1; **p<0.05; ***p<0.01

The model fits the data fairly well, and the correlation between actual vaccination rates and values predicted by the model is much higher than the correlation of any individual variable. Despite their differences, both Milwaukee and Ozaukee are well explained by the model.

scatter plot showing actual vs predicted results of the regression model

Continue ReadingDiffering COVID-19 vaccination rates are about more than just politics

Out-of-State Investment in Milwaukee’s Home Rental Market

(Click here to download the entire report.)

I bought a home last year in Milwaukee’s Uptown neighborhood. It’s a nice place—one  I’ve come to see as quintessentially Milwaukee. Kids walk to the playground at the end of the block. Adults walk to the coffeeshop. The mostly interwar-built houses are sturdily constructed on small lots. Typically, they’re worth about $30,000 less than the citywide average, so it’s the kind of place many people can comfortably afford to live. Since moving in, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my neighbors—school district employees, a firefighter, a welder, a guy who assembles circuit boards, the lady who feeds the cats. For a researcher like myself, meeting my neighbors hasn’t just meant striking up conversations on the sidewalk. I’ve also dug into the property records of the houses near mine. In doing so, I’ve learned that locals aren’t the only people interested in Uptown.

Since 2018, LLCs based outside Wisconsin entirely have purchased dozens of houses near mine. Ohio-based VineBrook Homes, Milwaukee’s most aggressive home buyer, owns five houses within three blocks of mine (part of the nearly 350 they have purchased citywide so far). Another national company, SFR3, owns several more. Sometimes the ownership is obscure. The duplex at 2702-04 North 49th Street is owned by “2704 N 49TH ST 53210 LLC.” This particular LLC lists an owner’s mailing address in San Francisco. I’ve lost track of the number of flyers I’ve received encouraging me to sell my home. One Friday night, someone even called my cell phone, offering to buy my house.

My neighborhood is one small part of a wave of single family home and duplex purchases by large corporate investors, often with Wall Street backing.

Continue ReadingOut-of-State Investment in Milwaukee’s Home Rental Market

Why Do Republicans Overperform in the Wisconsin State Assembly? Partisan Gerrymandering vs. Political Geography

(This essay is adapted from an On the Issues program with Craig Gilbert, Mike Gousha, and John Johnson. Click here to view that program in its entirety.)

Wisconsin has a confusing political personality. A casual observer might perceive it as a blue state. After all, 2016 is the only year a Democratic presidential candidate lost the state since 1984. On the other hand, it feels very purple when you consider that Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis to win an outright majority of the vote. In still more ways, you might think this is a solidly red state. Republicans have controlled the State Assembly for all but three years of my lifetime. Rather than encouraging a mood of bipartisanship, I think this combination of red and blue traits leads many Republicans and Democrats alike to believe that they are the “true” representatives of Wisconsin who are only stymied by the illegitimate interference of the other party.

My preferred description is that Wisconsin, politically speaking, is not one moderate state; rather, it is one very conservative state overlapping another very liberal one. This state of affairs, after all, isn’t new. Wisconsin gave the nation the rabid anti-communist senator Joseph McCarthy at the same time Milwaukee elected its third mayor from the Socialist Party. The varied nature of Democratic and Republican coalitions in Wisconsin—both geographically and demographically—gives each party advantages in certain kinds of elections. Republicans have long performed better in the state legislature than their statewide vote share would suggest. This advantage accelerated after the 2011 redistricting, by some measures doubling their previous advantage. But how much of the built-in Republican advantage in the State Assembly is due to deliberate partisan gerrymandering and to what extent it is the natural consequence of Wisconsin’s political geography?

Continue ReadingWhy Do Republicans Overperform in the Wisconsin State Assembly? Partisan Gerrymandering vs. Political Geography