Buying a home is a cornerstone of the American Dream, and the US government has long encouraged it with generous subsidies. As far back as the early 20th century, defenders of this policy have argued that it fosters a contented middle class and an engaged electorate.

Indeed, it’s a truism of American politics that homeowners turn out to vote in higher numbers than people who rent their homes. It’s no surprise, then, that politicians tend to court their favor.

But is the link between homeownership and electoral participation one of causation or correlation? Does buying real estate cause a person to plod through the voter guide? Or could it be that those who are more likely to own a home—perhaps due to age, education, or other demographic factors—are simply more prone to vote?

This actually matters. For one thing, subsidizing homeownership to foster a healthy democracy makes sense only if it does so; otherwise, it’s a giveaway to those least in need. And on the flip side, if homeownership does prompt people to vote, that might suggest they’re driven partly by self-interest—specifically, the desire to boost their property values.

In that case, those voters will presumably favor things like restrictive zoning laws that exclude lower-income people and prevent new construction, thus making it harder for others to break into the housing market and worsening social inequalities.

To get to the bottom of this, Andrew B. Hall, a professor of political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Jesse Yoder collected two decades’ worth of election records on 18 million people in Ohio and North Carolina. Then they combined that with deed data to see if people’s behavior changed when they became homeowners.

The result? They found that buying a home really did cause people to vote substantially more in local elections—and the bump in turnout was almost twice as big when zoning issues were on the ballot. What’s more, the effect increased with the purchase price. The greater the asset value, the more likely people were to vote.

“Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that the increase in voting is driven, at least in part, by economic considerations,” Hall says. “People are clearly paying more attention and turning out in larger numbers to weigh in on policies that affect their investment.”

Read the full article about homeownership and voting at Futurity.