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November 03, 2012 9:13 AM Why Hurricane Sandy may help Obama at the polls

By Kathleen Geier

As we head into the final weekend before Election Day, the big question on many people’s minds is whether Hurricane Sandy will have an impact on the election, and if so, to what extent. Alarmingly, this morning the New York Times is reporting that damage from the storm may make it more difficult for voters in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — three of the most important blue states — to get to the polls. Other potential problems include delays in counting absentee ballots (because of mail service interruptions) and a heavy, unexpected influx of paper ballots that will have to be counted (because some polling places will be moved).

If voter turnout is reduced in those three Democratic strongholds, it may cut into Barack Obama’s popular vote total, even if, as expected, he wins those states’ electoral votes. This is troubling, because you just know the wingnuts will be pulling out all the stops to discredit an Obama victory, assuming one occurs, and a popular vote loss would be substantial grist for their ever-churning mills. They are of course shameless enough to be utterly untroubled by the fact that a popular vote loss by one of their own in a certain electoral contest in 2000 perturbed them not a whit, and that they relentlessly hectored those of us who were bothered by it to “get over it.”

Quite apart from the presidential election, lower turn-out in heavily Democratic areas could have a major effect on down-ballot races, such as the Connecticut senate contest between Democratic congressman Chris Murphy and Republican professional wrestling impresario Linda McMahon. Though Murphy is currently ahead in the polls, he is enjoying a lead of a little less than 5%, making it conceivable that McMahon could pull off an upset.

In addition to ballot access issues, there’s the large, more-difficult-to-answer question of whether Sandy, and Obama’s response to it, changed any voters’ minds. It certainly appears to have influenced the thinking of some people. Chris Christie, for one, has been singing Obama’s praises, citing the administration’s response to the storm. Mayor Bloomberg, in his unexpected endorsement of Obama, said, in the words of the New York Times, “that the storm reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign” and made him decide to make the endorsement.

Research has shown that we tend to take opinions or recommendations more seriously when they contradict the previous opinion the recommender held, or contract her self-interest in some way. Given that fact, the positive reactions those two prominent Republicans have shown toward Obama’s leadership during this disaster could certainly sway some undecided voters into the Obama camp. On the other hand, conservatives have been complaining that Obama has allegedly been “playing politics” with the disaster, so that could create a backlash effect against him. It’s also quite possible that, ultimately, it won’t have any significant impact at all, except perhaps for those living in the affected states.

I believe it will help Obama, though. Here’s why: past studies of voting decisions have shown that fear can be a powerful motivator. There is some evidence, for example, that in 2004, when 9/11 and threats of terrorism were uppermost in voters’ minds, voters supported the Republicans because they felt the more hawkish G.O.P. was more likely to protect them militarily. Specifically, the 2004 “October surprise” Bin Laden video seems to have significantly boosted the (re?) election prospects of George W. Bush. Fear of terrorism, in effect, drove voters into the G.O.P. camp.

By the same token, if voters’ minds are concentrated on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy, on the toll it took not only in terms of property but in terms of human life, doesn’t it make sense that they’d be more likely to support Democrats? Democrats, after all, have been proven to run FEMA far more competently than Republicans, and to be far more supportive of a strong social safety for those in need, such as, for example, victims of natural disasters. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on those few voters whose minds aren’t already made up will be difficult to measure. But in the end, I believe it will turn out to be a net positive for Barack Obama and the Democrats.

UPDATE: Christie’s praise for Obama’s handling of the storm is an even bigger deal given the fact that we now know that Christie was Romney’s first choice for VP. It sure sucks to be MIttens — even the people who are on his team and whom he seems to like and respect the most have the knives out for him!

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

Comments

  • James M on November 03, 2012 11:19 AM:

    I too wondered about the effect that Sandy would have on the election. However, Chris Christie's virtual endorsement of President Obama is huge, let alone the near 80% approval of his handling of the hurricane.

    I always thought that BO would win, even after the disastrous 1st debate, and including the final jobs report, all the vectors in the last week seem to be moving in his favor. I have a feeling that he may even win Florida. Mitt Romney was always a weak candidate and he has only done as well as he has due many factors unique to this particular point in time.

    I know this is going to be a long weekend for everyone, but take a few deep breaths, a walk, or have a beer, and relax! This thing is all over now but the shouting and President Obama should win at 50+ electoral vote margin.

  • mellowjohn on November 03, 2012 11:21 AM:

    "...the wingnuts will be pulling out all the stops to discredit an Obama victory..."

    they're going to be doing that regardless of the vote totals.

  • stormskies on November 03, 2012 11:23 AM:

    These rapid creatures called Repiglicans will find a way, no matter what it is, to discredit Obama's reelection.

    These sniveling cretin are perpetual victims who always NEED a scapegoat to blame for that which they are responsible for. The sniveling cretins need a conspiracy around every corner because, compulsively, they create a victimized reality in which they are always persecuted.

    And anyone whom they don't perceive to be 'on their side' is attack like an animal that has rabies. The most recent example is these sniveling cretins turning on Chris Christie for simply being honest about Obama relative to the super storm Sandy.

    These sniveling cretins are the very worst of what humans can be. And these sniveling cretins are that type of human 24/7.

    They live in a utterly fact free universe, a universes of total fiction and delusions that needs to be reinforced at every turn. It is a universe of interlocking delusions that can not be penetrated by actual facts.

    And when it is penetrated by actual facts they reduce themselves, in the end, to 'well, I just don't believe it'.

    As a result these sniveling cretins will end up voting for the likes of the sociopath called Romney. Ask any of them what he actual policies are and the typical response will be "Duh, um.....duh".

    All's they care about is 'winning' in order to validate they delusional realities, to validate their miserable and pathetic lives of being sniveling cretins.

  • James M on November 03, 2012 11:36 AM:

    @stormskies on November 03, 2012 11:23 AM:

    "They live in a utterly fact free universe, a universes of total fiction and delusions that needs to be reinforced at every turn. It is a universe of interlocking delusions that can not be penetrated by actual facts."

    I think that most academics believe that major events in human history are primarily determined by the interaction of social and cultural factors and movements, and that the key human faces of an era are mainly just the representative results of these underlying trends. However, I tend to subscribe to the 'Great Man' theory: that it is people rather than circumstances that are the prime drivers of events.

    Can anyone imagine the current degree of political polarization our country now faces arising without Rupert Murdoch and Karl Rove? Rupert Murdoch created an alternate TV and print media universe for conservatives and Karl Rove mastered the politics of division. These 2 men have done incalculable and long lasting damage to our political system.

  • rrk1 on November 03, 2012 11:44 AM:

    When you are convinced, as the Rethugs are, that any election that puts a Democrat in power is illegitimate, that all Rethug winners win legitimately regardless of the dirty tricks department, then it doesn't much matter what the numbers are.

    There is going to be a flap even if Obama takes more than 300 electoral votes, and has a narrow popular vote victory. Were it the other way around the Rethugs would claim a mandate, as they did in 2000 when one vote on the supreme court handed the election to Bush. And then proceed to rule, rather than govern.

    Anyone who thinks this is going to be over on Tuesday night, or early Wednesday morning is whistling past the graveyard. My sense is that 2012 is going to make 2000 look like an afternoon nap.

  • robota on November 03, 2012 11:50 AM:

    Nice article but I am afraid of the ability (and willingness) of the republicans to manipulate the results (the vote count), especially in Ohio, Florida.

  • emjayay on November 03, 2012 12:12 PM:

    Karl Rove and actually a number of other Republican operatives (it's the UnGreat Men Theory) did more than mastering the politics of division. More like combining Hitler's Grosse Luge (that's Big Lie to those who do not know the most useless foreign language ever because the all speak English anyway) theory with old tyme character assasination and use of all the modern communication methods to really make it work.

    I suppose Carl and his friends made many other fine contributions to the art of duping the uninformed and gullible and hate and fear based voters as well.

  • SYSPROG on November 03, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Hey Kathleen...don't buy into the 'leak' that Christie was Romney's first choice for VP. It's a 'leak' worthy of Rove...either Christie embraced the President because he was PISSED at Romney or the Romney campaign is riding his coattails as a 'strong leader'. Don't buy the myth for one minute.

  • zandru on November 03, 2012 12:32 PM:

    "sniveling cretins", stormskies states emphatically.

    You must not know, or must never have met, any actual Republicans. When you keep repeating "sniveling cretins", I just hear Rush Limbaugh ranting on and on about "human garbage."

  • emjayay on November 03, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Speaking of Chris Christie in case you missed it check out this year's Letterman Halloween trick or treaters:

    http://www.cbs.com/shows/late_show/video/2298863097/david-letterman-new-halloween-costumes

  • stormskies on November 03, 2012 1:19 PM:

    zandru: i have met many Republicans in my time. Those folks were normal people who were able to think rationally, and dealt with actual reality. They we able to compromise with those that thought differently, and accepted the responsibility in their own actions.

    Sadly, those types of humans, Republicans, hardly exist anymore. Which is why they have become Repiglicans at the level of sniveling cretins. Your example of Rush Limbaugh perfectly illustrates this fact. In reality, he is projecting himself by way of his words 'human garbage'. And he projects this because of the current state of Repiglicans who can no longer accept the responsibility in their own actions: perpetual victims needing scapegoats for that which they are responsible for.

    It is because of this current state of reality from the Repiglican point of view that we are as a nation exactly where we are.

  • Anonymous on November 03, 2012 1:48 PM:

    They are of course shameless enough to be utterly untroubled by the fact that a popular vote loss ...in 2000 ....and that they relentlessly hectored those of us who were bothered by it to “get over it.”

    No,no,no. NPR mistakenly made this same false equivalence the other day. I don't think Democrats were "bothered" by a PV/EC discrepancy in 2000. What made the election feel stolen was the Supreme Court deciding the outcome rather than properly recounting actual votes that would go to the electoral college. That and the fact the brother of the "winning" candidate just happened to be the one in charge of the fiasco in said state in question.

    Give democrats some credit; we might bemoan how the voting system works but we do acknowledge its legitimacy. Of course the details surrounding 2000 are completely lost on the media's attempt to spin a future PV/EC discrepancy into, "Well democrats weren't happy about it when it happened in 2000".

  • c u n d gulag on November 03, 2012 1:57 PM:

    It doesn't hurt that, right after Hurricane Sandy, and 7 years after W's Katrina fiasco, Bush's pal "Heck of a Job, Brownie" chimes in with absolutley the most moronic point of ALL FECKIN' TIME - criticizing President Obama and FEMA for being TOO prepared, and responding TOO fast!

    Yes, Mikie, the time to put on a condom, is AFTER you've screwed the pooch!

    The hurricane showed a proactive, engaged President, working across the aisle with a Republican who actually NEEDED him and the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, instead of those dipsh*t's with the luxury to act treasonous and traiterous, for the benefit of THEIR party.

  • gregor on November 03, 2012 2:25 PM:

    This is complete nonsense. contrary to the smug headline, the hurricane is definitely going to help the GOP.

    Due to Sandy so many straws are in the wind that Romney will surely be able to find one and coast to victory with it.

  • Tramey on November 03, 2012 2:38 PM:

    Hey Kathleen,

    One post is all we get today? This Political Animal is getting peckish... ;-)

  • mudwall jackson on November 03, 2012 4:35 PM:

    gregor on November 03, 2012 2:25 PM:

    This is complete nonsense. contrary to the smug headline, the hurricane is definitely going to help the GOP.

    How?

  • Nancy Cadet on November 03, 2012 4:52 PM:

    Katherine, you are right to be concerned about down ballot races in the post Sandy disaster zone. In CD 1, eastern Long Island we have a closely fought election between a mini Mitt (millionaire outsourcer & carpetbagger Randy Altshuler) and the incumbent, local good guy Tim Bishop. Tim has represented this former GOP stronghold for several terms, and is an unabashed progressive-- anti war, pro health care, education, immigration reform, etc.-- thoughtful and respectful toward his constituents and their needs.

    Two years ago, mini Mitt lost by something like 700 votes. He's back for a second try. He had moved to this supposedly vulnerable election district from NJ, made his money by sending accounting jobs to India, and apparently decided to use his millions on buying a congressional seat with typical GOP policies and a very nasty personal campaign.
    So hard to know about turnout, with power outages, some roads blocked or flooded, some houses destroyed, and a frenzy over gasoline in this exurban area,