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Election Prediction: Rain Won't Stop Md. Voters

By Joe Palazzolo
Capital News Service
Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - Though forecasts are calling for light rain today, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and the rest of the Democratic troupe can quietly exhale.

Maryland Democrats aren't fair-weather voters, according to a CNS database analysis of voter turnouts and weather records from the last 20 years -- a trend contrary to a national one that showed Democrats were less likely to persevere to the polls than Republicans if the weather is inclement.

In fact, the data show that since 1986, five general elections have seen precipitation, ranging from 1 inch to one-hundredth of an inch, but to no statistically significant impact on voting patterns in the Maryland congressional districts where it fell.

A 2005 national study showed that 1 inch of rain diminishes overall turnout by just less than 1 percent but depresses the Democratic vote by 2.5 percentage points.

But in the last 20 years, when Marylanders have wanted to vote, a bit of drizzle or even sustained rains hasn't deterred them.

The data analysis compared turnout numbers from four Maryland congressional districts -- the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th -- chosen for the placement of their weather stations and records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and AccuWeather.com, an Internet weather database. The turnout data, from the Maryland State Board of Elections, is from presidential and gubernatorial general elections dating back to 1986.

Nov. 3, 1992, was unseasonably warm, with temperatures in many parts of the state crawling into the mid 70s. It was also waterlogged. Maryland's 1st Congressional District recorded an inch of rain. The 5th District received just over half an inch, and the 3rd District, more than a third of an inch.

Still, voters turned out in droves.

Across the board, and regardless of party, turnout exceeded district averages by at least 5 percent.

Bill Clinton was elected president with 43 percent of the popular vote, faring better in Maryland than any other state save Arkansas, his home.

Unaffiliated voters in the 1st District, in particular, blew away a five-election turnout average by 13 percentage points. About 80 percent sloshed to the polls, a tip of the hat, perhaps, to Ross Perot, who collected nearly 19 percent of the popular vote that year, a feat not since repeated by an independent candidate for president.

Two years later, just over a quarter-inch of rain showered the 3rd District. Again, voters from both major parties, as well as 11,237 unaffiliated voters, were unfazed. About 62 percent of the district's registered Republicans turned out, 2 percent more than average, and 61 percent of the district's Democrats took to the polls, matching a four-election average.

Democrat Parris N. Glendening scraped by to win the governor's post with 50.21 percent of the vote to Ellen Sauerbrey's 49.79 percent. Sauerbrey, now the assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, contested the outcome. Needless to say, she couldn't blame it on the rain.

She's a Republican.

The weather excuse is exclusive to the Democrats, according to the national study, which drew from weather and voting data in 3,000 U.S. counties for presidential elections from 1948 to 2000.

Appropriately titled "The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather Turnout and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections," the study found that the more it precipitates on Election Day, the more voters stay at home, with one inch of snow reducing the overall turnout by about half a percent and an inch of rain by just less than 1 percent.

Co-authors Brad Gomez, a visiting professor of political science at the University of Georgia, and his colleagues, Thomas Hansford and George Krause, were mostly silent on reasons why Democrats shy from rain, but an old political axiom has it that Democratic voters are poorer as a group than Republicans and thus are less likely to have transportation to the polls.

"I think you're more likely to find that that's true in more rural populations," said Ronald Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland at College Park. Democrats' apparent immunity to the rain here may highlight a contrast between Maryland and some other traditionally blue states.

"It might mean that Maryland has a more cosmopolitan population," Walters said. "The state has a pretty good transportation infrastructure, which may mean Democrats are not as susceptible to the affects (of rain) as some other places."

And with absentee requests spiking, the rain will have even less effect in future elections, said Zach P. Messitte, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

"This is the first time in Maryland where you don't need a reason to vote absentee," Messitte said. "You don't have to leave your house anymore. It will skew things."

Meteorologists said that Maryland's small size frequently ensures that bad weather smacks all parts of the state equally -- which means that Republican and Democratic districts are at parity during election-day rains.

"While there can be some sizeable differences in weather, more often than not, there isn't much. Any weather that's moving can affect the entire state rather quickly," said Chris Strong, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington Forecast office.

And today's weather?

"We think showers may be coming in the late afternoon or evening, but the rain will hold off until night," said Bernadette Woods, a meteorologist at Baltimore's WJZ-13, "but nothing that would give people an excuse not to vote."


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Banner graphic by Maryland Newsline's April Chan, incorporating original photos and images provided by Annapolis.gov and Ace-Clipart.com.

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.