Authors: William Zelin
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Daniel Smith
College: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Natural disasters have the power to uproot peoples’ entire lives in a matter of minutes, leaving behind immeasurable hardships on the people and places that they strike. We are interested in understanding the potential impact of such force majeure on voter participation when they occur in the days leading up to an election. To gauge the effect of a natural disaster on the voter turnout, we assemble an original dataset to examine the potential effects that Hurricane Michael had on voter behavior in the 2018 General Election in Florida. Our study assesses whether various operationalizations of Hurricane Michael—both the anticipation of the damage and the actual damage—affected voter behavior in 2018. Specifically, utilizing Difference-in-Difference (DiD) models, we test whether voters registered in counties that were randomly affected by Michael turned out in the 2018 General Election at rates comparable to their neighbors who avoided being directly impacted by the natural disaster. We also test to see whether these same voters altered their method of voting. Our findings, which show that overall turnout was depressed but that voters affected by the storm altered their method of voting to early-in-person voting locations, should guide future research on voting behavior and future policy decisions that seek to ensure that all voters are able to exercise their right to vote in light of the increasing incidence of catastrophic weather events.