As stormy weather looms over the Eastern U.S. for Election Day, some candidates are probably eyeing the skies and hoping the rain won’t keep their supporters from coming to the polls.
But with some races razor-close, even a small effect on voter turnout could make a major difference, Georgetown University associate professor of government and public policy Mark Rom said in a telephone interview with McClatchy.
“Anything that makes voting harder” will make those already least likely to vote even less likely to vote, Rom said.
“It is a small effect, but not necessarily a non-important effect. In a race like in Georgia it could be a few thousand (who make) a difference. If the rain is very hard and sustained during that time, it may turn some voters away. Those same voters may be the ones that decide the election.”
Forecasts show most states east of the Mississippi looking at some sort of rain during Election Day, with states like Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and up through the northeast facing wet weather, according to CNN. Some of the states hold key races where candidates are virtually tied, including house races in New York, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, the New York Times reported.
In Georgia’s closely-watched gubernatorial election, Democrat Stacy Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp are in a virtual tie, according to the latest polling from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I think (Georgia) is one of those places where its going to be right down to the wire ... all the polls are in the margin of error on both sites.,” Rom said.
Previous research has looked at how weather affects turnout. In a 2007 study published in The Journal of Politics, researchers found that rainy weather depressed turnout, to the benefit of Republicans.
“We find that, 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. Indeed, the weather may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections,” the researchers wrote.
Accuweather meteorologist Tim Loftus said Democrats were “more weather sensitive, when compared to Republicans,” and that “the most weather-sensitive were African-Americans, those 65 and older and 18-24-year-olds,” according to the site.
But others have found different results.
“We actually find that the effect of rain on turnout has been getting weaker in recent years, and it might even be zero now,” Princeton professor Thomas Fujiwara said in 2016, according to the Washington Post. “There are many potential reasons for this, early voting and mail voting being the most likely candidates.”
A study of Swedish election turnout published in 2014 also did not find “robust negative effects of rain.”
Rom said it was impossible to know how important the weather could be in advance.
“Rain is one of a dozen factors that will affect turnout ... you don’t know important it will be,” he said, speculating that, in general, he imagined Kemp was less concerned about rain than Abrams was.
“We will know the answer tomorrow night,” Rom said on Monday.