Paul Douglas: Will today's weather benefit Republicans or Democrats? Here's what the data says

Will a soggy Election Day favor Democrats or Republicans?

Paul Douglas
November 05, 2018 - 7:48 pm

© Ken Ruinard / staff

Does foul weather affect voter turnout? It all depends on who you believe, but data suggests that in most cases the answer probably is a qualified no.

The old rule of thumb was that rain on Election Day tended to favor Republicans, while unusually cold weather favored Democrats. But this is largely anecdotal, probably based more on folklore (and hand-waving arguments) vs. research and hard numbers.

A 2007 Journal of Politics study drew a link between wet weather and suppressed voter turnout, to the benefit of Republicans. Here's a summary of the research: “We find that, when compared to normal conditions, rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than 1 percent per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5 percent. Poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican party’s vote share. Indeed, the weather may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections,” the authors of the paper explained.

But a 2016 paper from a Princeton professor found that the effect of rain on voter turnout has apparently weakened over time, in fact there may be little or no impact to speak of.

Of course, a little common sense goes a long way: a major weather event, like a blizzard or flood, would, in all probability, prevent (some) voters from reaching the polls. Would a storm similar to the 1991 Halloween "Superstorm", with nearly 30" of snow, impact voter turnout? Of course. Luckily, we won't have to worry about such a dire scenario this year.

Tuesday Weather at 1 pm
Praedictix and AerisWeather

A slushy mix of rain and snow may coat some lawns and fields over central and northern Minnesota today, but we expect mostly-rain in the Twin Cities metro with temperatures in the mid 30s to low 40s. Roads will be mainly wet, but a few slushy highways can't be ruled out toward Alexandria and Little Falls.

Snowfall Potential by Tuesday Night
Praedictix and AerisWeather

Models suggest a slushy coating for the Brainerd Lakes area on north to Bemidji and Hibbing, but even there (most) roads will be wet much of the day. That said, a few icy patches are possible around daybreak and toward the dinner hour, as temperatures fall close to 32F.

Midwest Tuesday Highs
Praedictix and AerisWeather

Election Day high temperatures will run a good 5-10F colder than average, but temperatures should climb above freezing statewide.

Will foul weather with a leaky sky (mixed with a little slushy snow up north) keep Minnesotans from the polls? I seriously doubt it - not this year. Pollsters are predicting a record or near-record turnout across the state. Then again, pollsters make the meteorologists look good. Place your bets.