Objective: Neighborhoods represent a unique level of analysis where social and material determinants of social capital may be lodged. The 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict provided an opportunity to determine if a change in the material environment (i.e., the loss of off-sale alcohol outlets) resulted in a subsequent change in a potential indicator of social capital-civic engagement-as measured by voting rates.
Method: Longitudinal analyses of voting rates between 1990 and 1996 for the 480 census tracts affected by the civil unrest were conducted. Tracts that lost and did not lose off-sale alcohol outlets were compared using piecewise hierarchical models that accounted for both time-varying and census-tract-level confounders, as well as for spatial autocorrelation.
Results: In the post-unrest period, the increase in voting was significantly greater in tracts where there was a loss of alcohol outlets (beta = 0.393, p < .05). Findings remained after taking into account time-varying effects of the changes in ethnicity, gender, and age; and baseline effects of voting, potential for social organization, outlet density, and deprivation. The loss of alcohol outlets was associated with an average 3.0% increase in voting rate in the postunrest period, translating into an average increase of 50-212 voters per tract, depending on the size of the tract.
Conclusions: Loss of off-sale alcohol outlets in the 1992 civil unrest was associated with increased voting at the census tract level. Findings support the concept that loss of alcohol outlets in the neighborhood environment may contribute to the development of social capital, possibly through social network expansion.