Multiple studies have shown that bad weather on Election Day can decrease turnout, which in turn tends to help Republicans.
Storms are expected to hit much of the Eastern United States on Tuesday, which could depress Election Day turnout in some places.
A strong cold front could cause rain and wind anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard, from the Florida Panhandle all the way up to Maine, said Tim Loftus, a data scientist and meteorologist at AccuWeather. There will most likely be severe thunderstorms from North Carolina up to New Jersey. And in the Northeast, especially New York and Pennsylvania, winds could reach 50 mph, Loftus said.
The same broad storm system is expected to cause a mixture of rain and snow in the Great Lakes region and Northern Plains, including parts of Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota.
“Just about the entire eastern half of the country” will be affected, said Ari Sarsalari, a meteorologist for the Weather Channel. Much of the Interstate 95 corridor will be rainy, and the wind will be particularly bad in the Midwest, including the Great Lakes region and the Ohio Valley.
Multiple studies have shown that bad weather on Election Day can decrease turnout, which in turn tends to help Republicans, because the groups most likely to be deterred from voting are those that tend to vote Democratic. But a more recent study, published in November 2017 in the journal American Politics Research, found that the political effects of Election Day storms may go beyond turnout. Among voters who do turn out, one of the study’s co-authors said, slightly more tend to vote Republican when the weather is bad.
“Not just whether to vote but how to vote can be influenced by the weather,” said the co-author, Yusaku Horiuchi, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. “When the weather is bad, people’s mood is affected. People tend to be more risk-averse. When people become more risk-averse, people are more likely to be more conservative, and therefore they’re likely to vote for the Republicans instead of the Democrats.”
This effect is small, Horiuchi emphasized. He and his co-author, Woo Chang Kang of Australian National University in Canberra, estimated that about 1 percent of voters were liable to change their mind because of bad weather, which can translate into an increase of approximately 3 percentage points in a Republican candidate’s vote share — enough, in theory, to tip the balance of a close race.
Though it is broadly accepted as true that bad weather can depress turnout, and that lower turnout tends to benefit Republicans, this is not something Republicans tend to publicly acknowledge.
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At a rally in Toms River, New Jersey, on Monday, though, Bob Hugin, a Republican challenging the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Bob Menendez, openly called the predicted rain “Republican weather.”
“This election is about who gets the vote out and who doesn’t,” Hugin said, “and I hope it rains hard tomorrow.”
Loftus and Sarsalari noted, however, that in most places, at least part of the day will be dry, providing a more pleasant window for voters.
The storm will generally move from west to east. In the Great Lakes region and the Ohio Valley, the worst is expected to come overnight and early Tuesday, with better weather Tuesday afternoon. This includes the Midwest as well as much of Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and western New York.
In New England, eastern New York (including New York City), and the coastal mid-Atlantic, the storm will hit somewhat later. Voters there who have a choice may want to go to the polls in the morning.
From the perspective of turnout, Loftus said he was most concerned about North Carolina and Virginia, where the storms are expected to consume a large portion of polling hours.