The Political Impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Presidential Election (UPDATED)
And now the speculation begins before the storm hits full force: what will be Hurricane Sandy’s impact be on the Presidential election?
Ohio State Media Relations just sent out this email:
Ohio State University presidential historian David Stebenne says that history indicates that President Obama will need to make sure FEMA handles Hurricane Sandy well this week in order to move swing voters in key states such as Ohio. Stebenne says that Suez Crisis in 1956 distracted Eisenhower from campaigning some, but he handled the crisis well and it helped him win a landslide re-election. On the other hand, Professor Stebenne says that the Iranian hostage crisis produced the opposite result for Carter in 1980. “The key point is not to handle a last minute crisis in a way that suggests that one is not up to the job,” Stebenne said.
*** The campaign goes on — sort of: With Sandy already beginning to hit the East Coast, our October Surprise has arrived, producing plenty of uncertainty in this presidential election with just eight days to go. (How does this impact the campaign? Does it halt Romney’s perceived momentum? Does it complicate the Obama campaign’s early-vote strategy, especially in Virginia? Or does it give Obama a chance to look presidential?) Despite the uncertainty, the campaign must go on — well, sort of. So while President Obama canceled both of his scheduled trips today with Bill Clinton, the former president campaigns solo in Florida and with Vice President Biden in Youngstown, OH. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney stays out of the storm’s path and hits the three states that, if he loses them, would give Obama more than 270 electoral votes — Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. And Paul Ryan stumps in Florida, while First Lady Michelle Obama hits Iowa.
** Who benefits from a freeze in the campaign? You can also argue that any freeze in the campaign benefits Obama. Why? Because it stops any PERCEPTION of Romney’s momentum. Now, the Obama campaign argued on Friday to NBC News that talk about Romney’s momentum has been overblown the past couple of weeks, since Romney hasn’t made up more ground in the battleground states since mid-October. “His momentum narrative does have an impact on how people view the race on the ground in the states,” an Obama campaign official said, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. “And we wanted to correct it.” What is going on here? The fact is, there is momentum — it’s just not apparent as much (if at all) in the battleground states. We are seeing momentum in what we’d call the fringe states — that’s why Romney has shot up in the national polls, and why states like Minnesota and Pennsylvania are suddenly a bit closer. But little has budged in the battleground states. Yet here’s the simplest reason for why this freeze in the campaign hurts Romney. Instead of every news organization in the country covering his campaign like this, “Mitt Romney took his message of change to X, while Barack Obama took his message of don’t go backwards to Y,” the lead for the next three days will be the storm and fallout from it. And the president will be more legitimately involved in that story than Romney — simply because the president runs the government, period.
Fifteen million Americans represent about one-twentieth of the American population. If one-twentieth of Americans, who are 20 points Democratic-leaning, are unable to reply to surveys, Mr. Obama’s standing in the polls would be negatively impacted by a net of one percentage point as a result.
That calculation assumes, however, that pollsters are reporting their results verbatim. Instead, almost all polling firms weight their polls to cover non-response among different demographic groups. Some also weight their polls by geography, or might begin to do so because of Hurricane Sandy. This might mitigate the effects, although perhaps in unpredictable ways, since the weighting algorithms that different pollsters use are as much an art form as a science.
Some analysts have also expressed concern that the storm could depress turnout along the Eastern Seaboard on Election Day itself. 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.
This is a plausible argument, but let me offer a pair of cautions against it.
First, the Northeast is a wealthy party of the country, and wealthier regions have better infrastructure than impoverished ones, allowing them to recuperate more quickly after a disaster. Were the hurricane expected to hit at the same time next week, it would almost certainly be profoundly disruptive to the election. But the effects might be more modest a week from now.
Second, although the storm surge represents the most immediate threat from the hurricane, inland areas are under considerable risk as well. Hurricane Sandy could potentially flood riverbanks and other low-lying areas, both because of the storm surge carrying forth into them and then because of the potential for large amounts of rainfall. Moreover, these inland regions may be less well prepared to deal with the storm’s effects, especially given the news media’s tendency to focus its alerts on the impact to major, coastal cities and then to ignore the impact of a storm once it passes through them. (Hurricane Irene in 2011 produced more deaths in landlocked Vermont than in New York City.) Thus, Sandy’s after-effects could be felt in red-leaning areas like central Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along with others that are more Democratic-leaning.
Along the same lines, it is probably unwise to anticipate what affects the storm might have within particular states, such as whether it might affect the Democratic parts of Pennsylvania more than the Republican ones. Hurricane Sandy is just too large a storm, and has such unpredictable destructive potential, to make reliable guesses about this.
The storm, of course, will also affect the plans of the campaigns and the tenor of news coverage about them.
Academic studies on the effects of natural disasters on elections have produced somewhat ambiguous results, but don’t contradict the intuitive notion that a disaster response that seems well managed could help an incumbent, while a botched response (especially if the storm damage is severe) could harm him. However, most of these studies seek to evaluate the political effects of disasters on elections held months or even years later, so their utility for understanding the immediate political consequences of a disaster may be limited.
Time’s Mark Halperin on MSNBC’s must-view “Morning Joe” on Obama’s new allies:
One thing the President benefits from, I think — because, again, I don’t think the White House is going to mess this up. I bet you $10,000 — they’ve got in the tri-state area three extraordinarily aggressive governors, two Democrats, one Republican. But Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, and Dan Malloy are going to be very aggressive and work very close with the President and the White House because they are very concerned about the people, not just the politics of it. They’re concerned about the people. For the President, those are three highly competent, very aggressive governors.
On Sunday, politicos from both sides said it was still too early to tell how the storm would affect the race, but that access to voting centers would be a concern if effects from the storm persist until Election Day.
“I don’t think anybody really knows,” top Obama adviser David Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union” about the potential political impact of Hurricane Sandy. “Obviously, we want unfettered access to the polls because we believe that the more people come out, the better we’re going to do, and so to the extent that it makes it harder, you know, that’s a source of concern. But I don’t know how all the politics will sort out.”
Virginia’s Republican governor said Sunday his state would take measures to ensure residents are able to vote, despite potential obstacles brought on by the storm.
“We’ll be ready, but we’re planning for contingencies if there’s still a problem,” Bob McDonnell said on “State of the Union.” He said his state would “absolutely” make polling centers such as schools and fire stations a top priority for restoring power should widespread outages occur.
Another Virginian, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, predicted on Fox News the “storm will throw havoc into the race.”
What’s clear for both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney is that the superstorm brewing off the East Coast is shaking up an already hard-to-predict contest as it enters its final week, upending campaign schedules and interfering with the rivals’ ability to communicate with voters as they make their closing arguments.
Far from the projected storm path, Sandy claimed its latest political casualty this morning when Obama canceled an appearance at a rally in Orlando, Florida, that had been his last remaining chance for face time with voters in a politically competitive state before the tempest hits. He returned to the White House.
The president also canceled a campaign event scheduled for tomorrow in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to “closely monitor the impact of and response to Hurricane Sandy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Romney too was reshuffling his schedule to maximize his presence in battleground states while staying away from the storm-threatened areas. The Republican nominee planned events in Ohio and Iowa to start a week that both candidates were using to make final public pushes before voters, even as advisers fretted about the weather’s potential impact on their bids.
Members of both parties said there was no way to predict the political effects on either side. Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said the weather would “throw havoc” into the race, and Republican pollster Whit Ayres said it might be enough to change its course.
“Anything could be significant in races that are this tight,” said Ayres, who isn’t affiliated with either campaign.
A final note on the race. Polls are all over the place. Check it for yourself HERE.
–Gallup announces it’s suspending daily tracking polls:
This is a statement from Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport regarding Gallup polling and Gallup Daily tracking during Hurricane Sandy:
Gallup has suspended polling for its daily tracking as of Monday night and will reassess on a day-to-day basis. The ultimate effect on the overall picture of polling between now and this weekend, including election polling, will depend on what happens as a result of the storm, about which we will have a better understanding of on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
The monster storm battering the East Coast is hurting both presidential candidates. But it is probably hurting Mitt Romney more.
By freezing the campaign in its tracks, Hurricane Sandy is blunting the momentum that Romney had achieved since the debates, which put him ahead of President Obama in many national tracking polls and had him edging ahead or closing the gap in several key swing states. With the killer storm now dominating the news, Romney faces the challenge of keeping the conversation on politics when tens of millions of Americans are focused on anything but.
Romney’s progress, at least as measured by polls, may have been petering out anyway before Sandy struck. But from the viewpoint of a challenger trying to make the sale, the storm is an unwelcome October surprise.
To underscore Romney’s dilemma from an appearance standpoint, the president is assuming control of the federal emergency response. Obama flew to Florida on Sunday night, but canceled an Orlando event scheduled for Monday morning to return to the White House to monitor the storm’s damage. Romney, by contrast, has no role other than to express sympathy.
The hurricane takes two critical states, Virginia and New Hampshire, off the campaign trail this week. The candidates simply can’t bring their Secret Service details and motorcades into storm-ravaged areas trying to cope with flooding and blackouts. This could undermine Romney’s effort to close the gap in Virginia, where the latest Washington Post poll gives Obama a 4-point lead. The president has a 2-point lead in New Hampshire, according to a PPP poll.
Both candidates are likely to double down in Ohio, which is mostly outside Sandy’s path. Obama had been clinging to a 4-point lead in that bellwether state, but a Cincinnati Enquirer survey now has them tied at 49 percent. Romney has fewer paths to 270 electoral votes without Ohio.
The storm and its aftermath could hurt Obama’s ground operation, which is widely acknowledged to be stronger than Romney’s and is a linchpin of his strategy. By sidelining staffers, and making potential voters harder to reach by phone, the hurricane could put a serious crimp in the Obama turnout machine. Obama is also banking more heavily on early voting—Maryland shut down its program for Monday—but many of the affected states have tight restrictions on such voting.
Still, the greatest impact may be on public attention. Go to any news website or flip on any cable news channel, and Sandy is the dominant story by far. No one is talking about tax cuts or unemployment or immigration. Television has a tendency to overhype major storms, but given the breadth and destructive power of Sandy, the saturation coverage seems to match its magnitude.
–But Romney is reportedly taking action (1) his campaign buse will delivery relief supplies to storm relief centers and (2) he is raising some eyebrows because behind the scenes even though a President is the one who handles a national storm crisis such as this, he’s reportedly working with Republican governors on the storm relief issue (apparently not with Democratic governors).
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