How Hurricane Sandy Could Change Voters' Minds

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 29 2012 11:19 AM

How Hurricane Sandy Could Change Voters' Minds

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President Obama makes a statement after a briefing on Hurricane Sandy at FEMA Headquarters on October 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images.

Hurricane Sandy has yet to make landfall in the United States, but it's already impacting next week's election.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

For starters, it has forced President Obama and Mitt Romney to rework their carefully planned campaign schedules, and election officials in Maryland and the District of Columbia to temporarily suspend early voting.

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While it's obviously too early to say for certain just how much the storm could impact early voting between the East Coast and the Great Lakes, it doesn't exactly take a giant leap to imagine a scenario where the answer to that question is somewhere between "some" and "a whole lot." If nothing else, the storm is providing one final unscripted moment for a campaign that appeared to be largely in auto-drive heading into the final week.

But what about what the storm will do to voters' psyches? For an answer to that question, we point you to this 2011 paper from Boston University's Andrew Reeves and Carnegie Mellon's John Gasper: "Make It Rain? Retrospection and the Attentive Electorate in the Context of Natural Disasters." (h/t Mother Jones' Adam Serwer)

Here's the summary, emphasis ours:

Are election outcomes driven by events beyond the control of politicians? Democratic accountability requires that voters make reasonable evaluations of incumbents. Although natural disasters are beyond human control, the response to these events is the responsibility of elected officials. In a county-level analysis of gubernatorial and presidential elections from 1970 to 2006, we examine the effects of weather events and governmental responses. We find that electorates punish presidents and governors for severe weather damage. However, we find that these effects are dwarfed by the response of attentive electorates to the actions of their officials. When the president rejects a request by the governor for federal assistance, the president is punished and the governor is rewarded at the polls. The electorate is able to separate random events from governmental responses and attribute actions based on the defined roles of these two politicians.

And a little more detail from later in the paper (pg. 351):

"[P]residents are punished for severe weather damage. For example, $20,000 in weather damage in a county of 10,000 voters would result in a modest decrease of a quarter point in the two-party popular vote. This finding also holds even when accounting for a federal response to weather damage. In all specifications of the model we find evidence supporting a responsive electorate and our retrospection of outcomes hypothesis. Even though electorates reward politicians for taking action, they also punish the incumbent for so-called acts of God. The model also shows that presidents receive an electoral boost for disaster declarations, but one that is substantially smaller than the one received by the governor."

You can read the full thing here. Keep in mind that among those states expected to be hit by the Frankenstorm are a quartet of battleground states currently considered to be toss-ups by Real Clear Politics: North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.