Hurricane Sandy continues to take a projected path which will impact as much as 60 million people along the East Coast. The storm is scheduled to collide with another winter storm from the west to create what meteorologists have dubbed “Frankenstorm” right before Halloween. The utmost concern with a storm is the lives and property of the people affected. But elections also impact peoples’ lives, and there is also reason to believe that Hurricane Sandy may have a significant impact on the 2012 Presidential Election. Hurricane Sandy is currently projected to make an impact along the coast of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware before advancing inland to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania will almost certainly go for Obama, but Virginia and Ohio are highly contested swing states in the election, and both are also host to important Senate races. Here is how Sandy could impact the election.
Virginia and Ohio both have early voting guidelines. In Ohio voters can go to the polls early for any reason. In Virginia voters need a valid excuse to vote similar to what a voter would need to cast an absentee ballot.
According to the polls, President Obama has already built up an early lead in early voting in Ohio. Therefore, if voter turnout is depressed by Frankenstorm it could benefit Obama by keeping Romney from catching up over the final week. However, if the storm system dumps snow on the Northwest portion of Ohio it could depress the Obama campaign’s turnout in their stronghold part of the state.
The storm will impact Virginia less since early voting is more restricted there. Still, as detailed by Talking Points Memo, where the storm impacts the most in Virginia could depress voter turnout. If the storm dumps heavy snow on the rural areas it could keep many Romney voters from going to the polls. If the storm impacts the urban areas it will negatively affect the Obama campaign.
Both Obama and Romney surely would have made campaign stops in Ohio and Virginia over the final week of the campaign. However, Sandy could make these visits practically impossible over the coming week. The Obama campaign has already had to reschedule a joint appearance of President Clinton and President Obama on Monday. The Romney campaign has cancelled a Virginia event scheduled for Sunday.
In addition to the practical concerns, both candidates may stop campaigning entirely for a day or longer to avoid seeming insensitive. President Obama will have to be particularly careful, as he would surely come under attack if he was perceived as ignoring the needs of people on the East Coast while he was on the campaign trail.
The Federal Government Response
Finally, the most important impact from Sandy may come from how the Obama administration responds. When presidents responds well to natural disasters, as Obama did in Joplin, it often helps them in the polls as voters see a competent commander in chief who is also caring and compassionate. If a president does not respond well to disaster, as President Bush did with Hurricane Katrina, it can have a negative impact on their standing in the polls. Given the tightness of the current race, a movement of just one or two points for or against Obama could decide the election.