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Associated Press/Photo by Ben Fredman (The Free Lance-Star)

Rainy day voting

Campaign 2008 | Historically, bad weather hurts Democratic chances while enhancing prospects for Republicans

"It never rains in Southern California," the old song says. But this Election Day, it's pouring in San Diego and up and down the West coast. That's good news for Republicans, according to electoral lore-and according to recent sociological research.

"Weather's impact on voter turnout and its ability to tip a close election has long been examined with a mix of statistics, superstition, and speculation," the meteorological website Weather.com reported in October. "Only recently has hard science been applied to prove once and for all that bad weather on Election Day can indeed change the course of history."

Historically, Election Day rain seemed to hurt Democratic candidates and causes more than it did Republicans, weather specialists had observed. The theory was that since a greater percentage of Democrats earn lower incomes and live in metropolitan areas, that Democrats were more likely to walk to the polls. Thus, rain on Election Day was more likely to depress Democratic turnout.

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Last year that theory gained scientific traction. The Journal of Politics in June 2007 published a study titled "The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather Turnout and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections."

Researchers crunched voting data and weather reports from more than 3,000 counties, for presidential elections from 1948 to 2000. Even after adjusting for wet- and dry-weather locales such as Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, the study concluded that rain helps Republicans and hurts Democrats.

Today, Democrats could suffer in the West, the Plains, and the Middle Atlantic, where storms bearing from one to 12 inches of rain and snow are sweeping through. In California, if history holds true, the presidential electoral votes will still wind up in Barack Obama's column. But a pair of Republican-backed ballot initiatives-Proposition 8 (which bans same-sex marriage) and Proposition 4 (which requires parental notification for a minor girl's abortion)-may benefit from what is shaping up to be a rainy Election Day.

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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