Constitution Daily

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Bad weather has track record of swinging some elections

October 29, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


Does bad weather really favor one party in a national election? Data from a 2007 study is getting new attention as people ponder the effects of Hurricane Sandy in the coming week.


The study by three researchers appeared in the Journal of Politics in August 2007 was called “The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections.”


While the study focuses on the effects of foul weather on Election Day, it could be instructive as to voting patterns on November 6, when millions of people could likely be dealing with power outages, storm damage, and obstructed travel conditions.


The gist of the findings from three major universities: “When compared to normal conditions, rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than 1 percent per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5 percent. Poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican party’s vote share.”


Meteorologists are forecasting huge rainfall amounts through Wednesday for an East Coast area where 66 million people reside. It remains to be seen how much storm damage will affect folks a week from now, but it will definitely affect states that have early voting.


Another wild card: the key swing states of Virginia and Pennsylvania are heavily dependent on electronic voting machines.


The research paper from Brad T. Gomez from the University of Georgia, Thomas G. Hansford from the University of California – Merced, and George A. Krause from the University of Pittsburgh shows how bad weather influenced the two closest presidential elections in the past 100 years: the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon contest and the 2000 Bush-Gore election.


“Individuals low in socioeconomic status simply find it more difficult to bear the costs of voting, which includes both decision costs and the direct costs of registering and going to the polls,” the researchers said.


Another wild card: the key swing states of Virginia and Pennsylvania are heavily dependent on electronic voting machines.


The team looked at the effect of weather on voter turnout in more than 3,000 U.S. counties for 14 U.S. presidential elections from 1948 to 2000.


“Poor weather conditions are positively related to Republican party vote share in presidential elections,” they said. “The results not only lend credence to the weather-turnout thesis and the conventional wisdom regarding the determinants of aggregate voter turnout, they further add to the debate over how sensitive citizens may be to the costs of voting.”


Where the study gets interesting is in its analysis of Electoral College votes in 1960 and 2000, and how differing weather conditions would have made Richard Nixon and Al Gore winners.


The study says Nixon would have taken seven more states and 105 electoral votes if rain and snow were factors in 1960. And in 2000, better weather in Florida would have swung that state to Gore.


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While it remains to be seen if the delayed effects of a huge storm can influence a general election a week in advance, the study shows that any problems with travel on Election Day could favor the GOP.


“Bad weather may also limit one’s ability to travel. Roads soaked by rain or perhaps covered by snow may make for a more hazardous journey to the polls. Again, these are not major costs. But for many citizens, the imposition of an additional minor cost may make the difference between voting and abstaining,” the researchers say.


The current long-term weather forecast for big swing states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada on November 6 shows different conditions, according to the Weather Channel.


Rain is expected in northern Virginia and spotty showers in Florida. Ohio and Nevada are looking clearer.


The National Weather Service doesn’t issue a 10-day weather forecast.


Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.


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