The mass destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy will almost certainly have an impact on the presidential election — the question is, how? And to what extent? First, there’s the logistical challenge of getting people out to the polls in the midst of disaster cleanup efforts. Power has been restored to lower Manhattan, but 1.4 million people — many of them in New Jersey — are still without power. With election just days away, Sandy could severely affect voter turnout in the Mid-Atlantic region.
When it comes to predicting elections, Nate Silver is always the first person we turn to, and he offered an early insight on how the storm might affect voter turnout. “Since the affected states are Democratic-leaning, and since many of them are so Democratic-leaning that they are likely to vote for Mr. Obama even in a low turnout, it is thought that this might reduce Mr. Obama’s national popular vote without hurting his standing in the Electoral College much, potentially increasing the risk of a split outcome,” Silver wrote on his FiveThirtyEight blog. Silver ultimately dismisses this view, however, noting that the storm is just too big to predict how it will influence particular voting populations.
Voter turnout isn’t the only way Sandy could sway the election’s outcome; voters pay close attention to how political leaders respond to natural disasters. “Voters did in fact punish both governors and presidents for damage caused by natural disasters, but that that effect was really swamped by their response,” wrote Boston University political science professor Andrew Reeves in a recent paper. Voters hold politicians accountable for poor disaster response, but they reward them for taking storms seriously.
To that last point, conservative pundits hammered President Obama in the days leading up to the storm for returning to Washington and declaring pre-disaster states of emergency in several Mid-Atlantic states, but it turned out to be a wise political calculation. The president was briefed throughout Sunday night on the storm, and he immediately made it clear that federal authorities would be coordinating with local governments in the ensuing cleanup effort. Obama’s position was further supported when Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, appeared on several AM talk shows praising the president’s assistance.
Having a Republican governor sing the president’s praises on all the cable networks obviously isn’t a boon for the Romney campaign, but it gets worse. As several political news sites have pointed out, FEMA is one of the government agencies that Romney favors eliminating. In a 2011 CNN debate, Romney told moderator John King that disaster recovery should be the job of the states, not the federal government. Mitt Romney has been dodging questions about FEMA this week, and his campaign has announced that it will resume campaigning in Florida on Wednesday. For Romney, Sandy can’t go away soon enough.
Lead image via The White House Flickr photostream