The 2023 state elections were a disappointment for Republicans. In Virgina, Democrats took control of the House of Delegates after already controlling the senate. In Kentucky, Republicans hoped to retake the governor’s mansion but incumbent Democratic governor Andy Beshears cruised to a second term. In 2024, 11 governor’s mansions are up for grabs, including what are predicted to be tight races in North Carolina and New Hampshire. Republicans will need support from young voters to win, and adopting a pro-housing agenda can help them get it.
The share of voters under 30 who say they intend to vote Republican fell from around 40% in 2022 to roughly 35% today. This is not great for Republicans, but it could be worse. In the United Kingdom, only around 5% of voters under 30 intend to vote for the Conservative party, down from 20% as recently as 2020.
The decline in support for the U.K. and U.S. conservative parties contrasts with the recent increase in support for conservatives in Canada. Since the start of 2023, conservative support among young voters in Canada has increased from around 28% to 40%. Many attribute this surge in support to Canada’s Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre’s embrace of pro-housing policies.
The central piece of Poilievre’s plan is to tie federal funding for local governments to housing starts. Local governments that fail to meet their targets would lose funding, while those that exceed their targets would receive bonuses. This would incentivize local governments to reform their regulations to allow more housing.
Canada desperately needs more housing. Its average home price has climbed to $656,625. In high-demand cities Vancouver and Toronto, the average home price is $1.3 million and $1.1 million, respectively. A study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that house prices in Canada grew more than twice as fast as incomes from 2000 to 2022. First time home buyers, who tend to be younger, are hurt the most by high housing prices, which explains their enthusiasm for Poilievre’s plan to boost supply.
Housing prices in many U.S. states are also rising rapidly. From 2015 to 2022, house prices in the U.S. grew 35% faster than incomes, only slightly less than Canada’s 38%. Nationally, the ratio of median home price to median family income is 4.3, meaning the median home costs 4.3 times more than annual median income. Most experts consider a ratio over four a sign that housing is unaffordable. In the top five most expensive cities the ratio is 6.7 or higher, as shown in the figure below.
If Republicans want to earn the support of younger voters, they should take a page from Poilievre’s playbook and become the pro-housing party. A recent poll of Americans 46 years old and younger found that 45% blamed state and local governments for high housing prices, while 70% said government is not doing a good job making housing more affordable.
It is well-established that local zoning laws and land-use regulations increase the price of housing by restricting supply, so younger voters are right to blame government policy for high housing costs. Some state politicians from both major parties have got the message and reformed these burdensome rules to make it easier to build housing. In 2023, both red Montana and blue Washington passed major reforms to make it easier to build more housing, including legalizing accessory dwelling units, allowing residential construction in commercial zones, and permitting duplexes and triplexes in most neighborhoods. In a swing state with a governor’s race in 2024, such as North Carolina, the party that embraces similar housing reforms will gain an early advantage among young voters that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs posits that humans have certain basic needs that must be met before they can focus on higher-order aspirations such as family formation or career success. One of these needs is shelter. Today, in too many parts of America, housing is unattainable for young people of modest means who aspire to join the middle class. The major party that empathizes with their plight and commits to doing something about it will be rewarded on election day.