Weather And The Election

Monday November 7, 2016

It is often touted that good weather increases voter turnout, while bad weather suppresses turnout.

The saying relates to the fact that for everyone voting in an election, there is a cost-benefit balance in casting a vote. On one hand, if a certain political outcome is viewed as being advantages to an individual or society, then this increases the benefit of voting. On the other hand, voting hurdles such as taking the time to register to vote and then cast a ballot can be viewed as impediments and increase an individual's personal cost of voting. When the "benefit" out-weights the "cost", individuals are more likely to vote. When the "cost" out-weights the "benefit" individuals are less likely to vote. The impact that weather is believed to have is that when weather is particularly severe, getting to the polls becomes more difficult and increases an individual's cost of voting and ultimately decreases voter turnout.

To check the validity of this saying, Kingstonsnows looked a a few peer-reviewed articles to see if it had any merit.

Study #1: Knack (1994)
Findings: Weather does not play a significant role in voter turnout.
Limitations: The two election years evaluated 1984 and 1988 were both unusually dry, which makes for a small sample size that is potentially skewed.

Study #2: Shachar and Nalebuff (1999)
Findings: One inch of rain decreases voter turnout by 3.4%
Limitations: Weather data was utilized at the state level instead of the county level, and only the rainfall from from the state's largest city was evaluated.

Study #3: Gatrell and Bierly (2002)
Findings: Rainfall decreases voter turnout, while warmer weather increases turnout.
Limitations: The study only analyzed the state of Kentucky and did so for four different types of elections: presidential, gubernatorial, legislative, and congressional races.

Study #4: Gomez, et al. (2007)
Findings: One inch of rain decreased overall turnout by 0.8% and One inch of rain benefited the Republican vote by 2.5%
Limitations: Few if any when compared to the other studies.

Of the four studies, Gomez, et al. (2007) is the landmark study due to its thoroughness. It utilizes a large and consistent sample of political contests, focusing on fourteen successive presidential elections. States with obscure voting procedures are carefully vetted without compromising the overall sample size. Additionally meteorological data is analyzed at the county level while using programming technology to interpolate missing data fields - such techniques are consistent with those used in daily weather modeling. For these reasons, Kingstonsnows recognizes this study as being the best evaluation of the impact of weather on voter turnout.

Gomez, et al. and the 2016 Presidential Election

The study concluded that one inch of rainfall decreases voter turnout by 0.8%, and that an inch of rainfall increases the Republican vote share by 2.4%. In applying these values to past elections it was found that the weather potentially affected the outcomes of two presidential elections. First Nixon vs. Kennedy in 1960 when fair weather in Illinois may have helped hand Kennedy a narrow win. The second was Gore vs. Bush in 2000 when rain across the state of Florida may have impacted the controversial outcomes there.


For this year's election, rainfall seems to be a relatively minor factor for voting on Tuesday. The Global Forecasting System Model 24-hour rainfall forecast encompassing tomorrow's voting depicts light rain from Texas to western New York, with heavier rain across Mississippi. Only two RealClearPolitic toss-up states are forecast to receive rain - Michigan and Ohio. Both states fall into the light rain category with generally less than a quarter of an inch across both states. Such light rainfall totals would correlate with a less than half a percentage increase in vote share for the Republican party. Mississippi is currently a solid Republican state, and if the study holds true, the rain should only increase the Republican margin of victory there. Elsewhere, dry conditions should make for an even playing field with the weather likely being the last thing on people's minds. Warmer than normal weather across much of the country should help to increase overall turnout according to the results of Gatrell and Bierly (2002).

Gatrell, Jay; Bierly, Gregory. "Weather and Voter Turnout: Kentucky Primary and General
Elections." Southeastern Geographer. The University of North Carolina Press, May 2002.
Web. 6 May 2016. <>.

Gomez, Brad, Thomas Hansford, and George Krause. "The Republicans Should Pray for Rain:
Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections." The Journal of Politics.
Wiley Online Library, 28 June 2007. Web. 6 May 2016. <

Knack, Steve. "Does rain help the Republicans? Theory and evidence on turnout and the vote."
Public Choice. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994. Web. 6 May 2016. <>.

Shachar, Ron; Nalebuff, Barry. "Follow the Leader: Theory and Evidence on Political
Participation." The American Economic Review. June 1999. Web. 6 May 2016. <>.


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