Election 2008

Jae C. Hong/AP

GOP Sees Silver Lining in Gray Clouds

November 03, 2008 02:05 PM
by Christopher Coats
Leaving no analysis behind, election observers turn their gaze skyward to gauge whether showers or snow could help decide the election.

Praying for Rain

Republicans hoping for the help of nasty weather on Election Day are sure to be disappointed by clear and sunny forecasts across the nation, though one could hardly blame them for hoping.

After decades of speculation, an official study found that the worse the weather, the fewer Democrats made their way to the polls.

Analyzing the behavior of voters and weather patterns in particular areas, the study found that “rain does have a significant effect decreasing the Democratic vote share.”

The study suggested that bad weather tended to benefit Republicans due mostly to socio-economic factors, finding that urban areas, where more voters would walk to the polls, leaned Democratic.

Most notably, the analysis found that Florida could have shifted toward Democratic candidate Al Gore had the weather been better—a result which would have decided the national election in his favor.

The study suggested that had it rained in Illinois in 1960, Richard Nixon would have topped John F. Kennedy, handing the national results to Nixon.

According to the 2007 study in the Journal of Politics, “for every one-inch increase in rain above its election day normal, the Republican presidential candidate received approximately an extra 2.5 percent of the vote.”

While this may seem like a small factor with little impact on the final results once the polls close on Tuesday, the study found that results in both 1960 and 2000 could have been decided differently if the weather had been different, shifting entire swing states and possibly national elections.

One region in which weather might play a factor is the northern, predominantly Democratic part of Virginia.

The hotly contested state, which has seen its support pretty evenly split between north and south, has showers forecasted for the northern cities throughout Election Day, increasing the chance that voters will not venture out to the polls.

Reaction: No help in the forecast

Unfortunately for Republicans, the forecasts for most battleground states on Election Day predict clear and sunny skies. Further, in states such as Pennsylvania, Barack Obama holds about a 10 point lead, making the prospect of rain tipping the scales all the more unlikely.

Additionally, critics have pointed to starkly higher rates of enthusiasm among Democratic voters, evidently even in the face of harsh weather conditions. Last week saw 9,000 supporters of Obama show up in “cold, hard, decidedly awful rain,” to see the candidate speak in Chester, Pa., while McCain canceled an outdoor event the same day in Quakertown, Pa., due to the dismal weather.

Further, doubters of the weather theory have pointed to increased early voting and the fact that bad weather could actually serve to help Democrats by extending polling hours, allowing for more voting, to question the validity of the theory in this election year.

Related Topic: A prayer unanswered

Earlier this year, a Colorado evangelical leader asked Republicans to pray for rain on August 28—the day Democratic candidate Barack Obama was scheduled to give his acceptance speech at his party’s national convention, held in an open-air stadium.

“I’m talking ‘umbrella-ain’t-going-to-help-you rain,” appealed Stuart Shepard, of Focus on the Family, a national evangelical group. A former pastor and meteorologist, Shepard asked fellow evangelicals to pray in an attempt to disrupt Obama’s speech in an online video distributed during the month before the event.

While Shepard’s prayers ultimately went unanswered, incidentally, weather did end up impacting the Republican National Convention. Scheduled to start on the same day that a hurricane was set to hit New Orleans, the national party canceled and rearranged a number of events, abbreviating the convention and the number of speakers.

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