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History tells us nature can decide balance of power in US elections

Oct 31st, 2012 | By | Category: Editor's Picks, Featured Article, News

IMAGE: The Ulsterman Report

HISTORY tells us that natural disasters can affect the outcomes of elections, but the response of elected officials plays as important role as the disaster itself.

A US election has never been called off due to a natural disaster, though disasters can mean lower voter turnout, which can affect the vote.

“Gallup suggests voter turnout for the presidential election will be lower than in 2004 and 2008,” reports USA Today.

The early vote, which President Obama has been chasing, is now cancelled in some hurricane hit areas – so that may also affect the vote.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon is researching past natural disasters, weather, and the effect on election results and voter turnout.

He points to a study looking at the weather on election day in more than  3,000 counties for the 14 presidential elections going back to 1948.

It finds that every inch of rain depresses turnout by just under 1 percent, and that depressed turnout tends to favour Republicans.

In the US election of 2000, weather may have dictated the result.

In states affected by drought and excessive rain, Al Gore may have lost as much as 2.8 million votes to George W. Bush, according to another study.

It is the perception of Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy that be the decider, according to two political scientists.

They have written a paper examining the effects of weather events and governmental responses on the election outcomes.

It looks at gubernatorial and presidential elections from 1970 to 2006 in America.

“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,” they say.

It is widely believed that former US president George W Bush lost voter confidence after a perceived lack of urgency over Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

The perception of the New Zealand Government’s response to the Rena oil-spill in 2011 may have hurt their pre-election popularity, according to Audrey Young at the NZ Herald.

“The Greens have been gaining profile as National battles the perception the Government was too slow to respond,” she says.

In 1979, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic lost his re-election campaign due to his poor disaster management of a snowstorm, says columnist Alex Seitz-Wald.

“The Bilandic administration’s response crippled life in the city for weeks afterward and cost him his job. The errors were numerous and devastating.”

In the case of Hurricane Sandy, the crisis response is being managed by the federal government so the responsibility falls on Obama.

No Republican governor has used the situation so far to push Mitt Romney’s agenda of dismantling the Federal Emergency Management Agency and giving the control to each state.

Republican governors in storm-hit areas have been generally supportive of Obama.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is even praising Obama’s efforts.

“The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA,” he told NBC’s Today Show.

With hostilities suspended and a good impression of Obama’s crisis management, it looks like Hurricane Sandy could favour Obama.

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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