The Political Fallout of Natural Disasters

So when tornadoes or others natural disasters strike, how do voters react, and what do those reactions tell us about voting? It’s plausible that voters might blame incumbents, even for something that is as obviously beyond their control as a tornado. There is, after all, evidence that voters punish incumbents for everything from shark attacks to losses by local sports teams. But on disasters specifically, the most recent evidence suggests more than just knee-jerk blame for whoever happens to be in office. Multiple studies indicate that when incumbents act in voters’ interests in the wake of a disaster, they are rewarded with increased support.

That’s from my most recent post over at Wonkblog, detailing political science research into the political impacts of natural disasters.  For more, head here.

One Response to The Political Fallout of Natural Disasters

  1. Tom May 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    Krista Jenkins and Dan Cassino had a paper at AAPOR this month based on a poll they did during Hurricane Sandy. The storm caused a break in the fielding, which they used as a type of natural experiment.

    They found that ideology had an effect we’d think is commonsense in other domains: people gave their preferred ideological leaders better marks (libs/Dems vs. Obama and cons/Reps vs. Christie).

    The other major variable was days without power, and here’s where it gets interesting. The longer one was without power, the further they were pushed to their natural ideological position. So, over time without power, liberals and Democrats gave Obama higher marks and knocked Christie, and vice-versa with conservatives and Republicans (as opposed to people knocking *both* incumbents for their long-term power loss).

    Here the abstract:

    The Storm of the Century: Assessing the Effects of a Natural Disaster on Electoral Behavior and Attitudes Krista Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Dan Cassino, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Peter Woolley, Fairleigh Dickinson University

    In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard and brought to an abrupt end attempts to conduct a pre-election survey in the days leading up to the presidential election. Almost two million New Jerseyans were without power, thousands were displaced, and telephone service (both cell and landline) was rendered inoperable for a large proportion of households. Prudence dictated that interviewing be suspended as even those residents who might have been reachable via phone struggled to recover from the storm. In short, the widespread nature of non-coverage was an insurmountable challenge to ongoing pre-election polling. However, rather than abandon the survey, our research design morphed into a panel study, whereby we recontacted the 400+ registered voters who were interviewed in the days preceding the hurricane’s arrival. When power and phone services were widely restored we resumed the study and emerged with a unique data set from which to assess individual level effects of a natural disaster on electoral behavior and attitudes. Thus we revisited questions concerning an individual’s voting intention, candidate preferences for both president and U.S. Senate, public questions that touched on referenda for higher education bonds, judicial fringe benefits, and favorability of key national and state political actors. The data and paper address several questions including “Given the opportunity to look presidential in non-partisan settings, do natural disasters increase the prospects for incumbent presidents?”, “Do natural disasters heighten, diminish, or have no effect on one’s likelihood of voting?”, and “Are attitudinal and behavioral changes dependent on the degree of loss one experiences as the result of a natural disaster?” These questions, although basic, are rarely addressed given the infrequency with which natural disasters are so closely timed with elections.