Analysis: Stormy weather could lead to low voter turnout

The forecast for Tuesday is rain at times from the North to the South, with floods in the low-lying areas and snow on the Hermon.

February 8, 2009 23:04
3 minute read.

elections2009_248. (photo credit: )


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The forecast for Tuesday is rain at times from the North to the South, with floods in the low-lying areas and snow on the Hermon, according to the Israel Meteorological Service. While generally a forecast of rain would be glad news in drought-stricken Israel, Tuesday is election day, and many a politician might prefer sunny skies instead. Having to drag along an umbrella, stand outside in stormy weather on line at the voting booth, or wade through puddles could be the straw that breaks many voters' backs. Apathetic or undecided voters, of which there could be quite a few in this election, may not make the extra effort to come out and vote. The elderly, parents with young children and the economically challenged may also be less willing to brave the elements, preferring to remain nice and cozy in their living rooms and watch election returns from the couch instead. Voter turnout has been the subject of much debate. Traditionally, the individual voter has been found to have little incentive to vote because his or her one vote will scarcely make a difference. That phenomenon has been dubbed the "collective action problem." Other political science models single out poorer voters who may not be able to afford that extra bus or taxi to the polling booth. To provide incentive, political parties have traditionally arranged transportation for the elderly and anyone in need of a lift to the nearest polling station. While weather has constantly been referred to as a factor, it wasn't until recently that a comprehensive study was undertaken to examine the effects of weather on elections. Professors Brad T. Gomez of the University of Georgia, Thomas G. Hansford of the University of California, Merced, and George A. Krause of the University of Pittsburgh looked at US national elections from 1948 to 2000 across 3,000 counties to determine if, empirically, weather could be proven to have an impact. In an article in the Journal of Politics from August 2007, they wrote that weather did have an impact - for every one inch of rain above normal, 0.8 percent of voters stayed away. They also found correlations with snow, but that is less relevant in Israel. Cold alone was not a significant factor, the three professors found, but cold and rain were. So some rain in the North or a flood in the South could actually have an effect. But whom does it affect, and how? Traditionally, higher voter turnout has been better for larger parties, while smaller parties have benefited from lower voter turnout. Delving into voter population analysis, if the elderly, poor, apathetic or undecided, and women with young children might be more affected by inclement weather, some conclusions can be reached. Hardcore voters will turn out in rain or sleet regardless, so parties like Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Meretz and some of the smaller parties could weather the storm just fine. If Kadima and Labor are looking to tap into swing voters, though, they might want to start booking those minivans and taxis. Labor and the Gil Pensioners Party should be worrying about their elderly voters, while the haredi parties should be worrying about their young mothers. On the other hand, haredi voters have tended to come out in droves to vote according to the directives of their rabbis. Shas could find cause for concern among its voters in the southern periphery, who might prefer not to brave a stinging sandstorm. Of course, there is still a chance that election day will dawn clear and blue despite the forecasts. Rain storms have been few and far between this winter, and more than one forecast of rain resulted in merely a meager few drops falling on the country.

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