US midterm elections: Despite record campaign spending, weather could still dampen turnout

Parts of Maine were blanketed by almost two feet of snow

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Despite a record level of campaign spending, there’s no guarantee of a record turnout at today’s US midterm elections.

And in Maine, at least, voter numbers could be depressed, after a snowstorm struck the north-eastern state on Sunday morning, leaving at least 80,000 people without power.

Parts of the state were blanketed by almost two feet of snow, with winds reaching 50 miles per hour. While Tuesday dawned mostly clear, the electoral authorities were forced to move some polling locations at the eleventh hour, and to provide emergency generators and portable heating to draw reluctant voters from their snowed-in homes.

A 2007 study found that bad weather can affect voter turnout, and it is well known that lower voter numbers are good news for Republicans, whose supporters are more likely to show up regardless of the conditions. This year, even tiny factors could prove critical to the national outcome, which hinges on the results of a handful of narrowly contested states.


That 2007 paper, by a trio of political scientists from the universities of California, Georgia and Pittsburgh, found that one inch of snowfall can depress turnout by almost 0.5 per cent. The forecast was good for most of the states hosting important races today, but some areas of Maine are buried under as many as 15 inches of snow.

President Obama ran away with the state at the 2012 Presidential election, but the tightest race in Maine today is between an incumbent Republican governor, Paul LePage, and his Democrat challenger Mike Michaud. The result is still a toss-up, and LePage may have the weather gods to thank if he scrapes back into office.

At the 2000 Presidential election, George W Bush finally declared victory thanks to just 537 votes in Florida, and the study speculated that some (potentially Democrat) voters were kept from the polls by rain in the Sunshine State. If not for that bad weather, history might have taken a very different turn.