In south Louisiana, where politics and football are too easily labeled as theater and where forgotten pirates and fallen pastors maintain high regards, the weather is a staple character of life.
Our weather can bring an end to dreams and revive sulking crops, it can force water into every exposed crack, extend crawfish seasons and occasionally put snow under our toes. Our weather is tropical and moody and wet—it would otherwise be the perfect cocktail, if its moniker weren’t already being used to define the state of the atmosphere.
With less than 100 days to go until this year’s primary elections, and given the storm that was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico as of this writing, the timing is probably right to merge the topics of weather and politics. As you well know, the course of Louisiana politics has been dramatically influenced by the outcomes of our precarious weather conditions—both short and long term.
As of midday Monday, the Gulf Coast was on alert for a potential tropical storm, slightly ahead of schedule. The surface read rightly made some folks nervous, like the organizers behind this week’s Christmas in July event in Kenner and the Ponchatoula Bird Fair & Sale. But bad weather does much more than upend social plans this time of year. Mix in our current election cycle and you can clearly see an imperfect storm on the make.
What if Louisiana gets smacked with a natural disaster? We’ve been there before. Yet a natural disaster in a gubernatorial election year, with a Democratic governor and GOP White House, doesn’t sound so appetizing. There would be plenty to worry about, from the flow of federal dollars to the usual blame games.
God willing, we’ll get out of 2019 without getting wet and blown around. If we’re lucky enough, though, that doesn’t mean coastal restoration, flood mitigation and storm response should be absent from our election dialogues.
These topics will certainly stay fresh in the minds of many voters, regardless of the circumstances to come. But it’ll only take one harsh gust of wind and a few buckets of rain to make the campaign issue explode. And talk about a prickly issue—it could veer into any number of murky government corners, like the awarding of public contracts, duplication of benefits, flood insurance and infrastructure improvements, to name a few.
Plus, unpredictable weather patterns are among the best ways to flip a general consultant’s life upside down. That’s why many of them are already familiar with the studies conducted on weather and elections. While some studies disagree, there’s a general acceptance that above average precipitation is bad for turnout.
In “The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections,” professors Brad Gomez, Thomas Hansford and George Krause offer this caveat: “In addition to its direct effect on voter turnout, we have shown that bad weather may affect electoral outcomes by significantly decreasing Democratic presidential vote share, to the benefit of Republicans.”
Another study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, with research conducted by Ghent University in Belgium, found that for “every 10C increase in temperature, voter turnout increased by 1.4 percent” in U.S. elections.
Arguably the most significant challenge campaign managers and consultants face in the wake or even emergence of a serious storm is the standard shutdown in operations that’s connected. Candidates don’t want to raise money or be on television or post frivolously to social media when the floodwaters are coming. So it becomes a waiting event, where timing is more than everything, because it’s the only thing.
On the upside, nothing brings a state together like a rebuilding effort, or a push to protect from harm. Projects along the Comite and Morganza are fine examples of communities and diverse interests uniting.
If nothing else, Louisiana has a weathered electorate. We’ve seen all sorts of crazy stuff since the last gubernatorial election in 2015. We waded through dirty waters (again) together, we looked north to Washington for help together and we’re looking at yet another Gulf storm together.
We know all about taking shelter, having patience and how powerful the winds of change can be if they encounter the right kind of optimism.
Good thing our politics are the same way.