Although public opinion generally is opposed to tax increases, voters frequently choose to raise their own taxes in property tax cap override elections. This study sought to uncover the factors that are associated with successful attempts to increase local property taxes.


This phenomenon was studied in Massachusetts towns, where over 1,200 overrides were successful from 1990 to 2007. Multivariate analysis was used to assess the relative importance of variables related to two theoretical perspectives: voting as utility maximization and voting as symbolic action.


The results show that override support reflects the fiscal condition of the town, the context of the particular override request, and, most importantly, the socioeconomics of the community. Overrides were more successful in communities that had higher levels of education, lower levels of affluence, and smaller nonwhite populations. In addition, overrides were more successful in towns with lower existing tax rates and where the particular override was less salient and narrower in scope.


On balance, the results are supportive of a symbolic theory of override voting in which voters are expressing their general views about government, rather than choosing in a way reflective of individual utility maximization.