The Paradox of Open Space Ballot Initiatives in the American West: A New West-Old West Phenomenon?

Elizabeth A. Shanahan


Support for local open space ballot initiatives in the American West is surprising, given that federal land conservation legislation tends to be lightning rod issues. The central focus of this study is to explore the extent to which the New West-Old West concept explains varying levels of support for local land conservation initiatives. Principal component analysis is used to obtain orthogonal variables of regionally relevant data on population, housing, and occupation/industry. Weighted Least Squares Regression is used to regress the factor analysis variables and population migration variables onto percent voting ‘yes’ for open space initiative. All community variables are significant predictors of levels of support: affluent communities, Old West communities, commuter communities, communities with decennial population increases, communities with non-Western state in-migration, and communities with farm population losses. What explains varying levels of support is not the polarized New West-Old West concept but, rather, a nuanced conception of the changing American West. Keywords: New West-Old West; open space; land conservation; ballot initiatives; environmental concern

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