Hurricane Sandy, now known as Super Storm Sandy, touched down on the eastern coast of the United States last week. Immediately, over 8 million people were left without power. And, tragically, at least 55 people were killed in the epic winds, rainfall, and flooding. The entire east coast and much of the northeast has been impacted by the devastation. Many have said this is probably the worst water damage the northern seaboard has seen and definitely the worst damage to the highly utilized New York subway system in its roughly 100 year existence. From Wisconsin to Maine, and from Illinois to New Jersey, Americans are facing severe devastation in the aftermath of this natural disaster. And, with an extremely tight presidential race culminating next Tuesday, what could this mean for the American voter?
What Sandy Means to the Candidates
President Obama and Governor Romney both delayed their campaign efforts in the first few days of the storm. Romney’s headquarters is at a potential position of danger being located in Boston while Obama’s headquarters are safe in Chicago. Locations aside though, what is most interesting about this fact is that, in a way, the President never really gets to “delay” campaigning. Throughout this ordeal, Obama has had many a photo op, press release or conference allowing him to stand before the American people looking extremely “presidential.” Hurricane Sandy may, in fact, help the incumbent convince undecided voters that he’s the guy to pick next week.
Many political scientists have found that these types of extreme conditions typically have a negative impact on incumbents. And, even though the president, governor, or mayor in office has no control over whether or not a natural disaster occurs, they are often punished because of it. But, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, it may actually depend on the way the emergency is handled as opposed to the mere fact that it happened on a particular person’s watch. President Obama’s actions during Hurricane Sandy contrast greatly from President Bush’s in Hurricane Katrina. Therefore, this issue may not actually come to bear in the case of Obama.
President Obama, earlier this week, stated:
“The election will take care of itself next week. Right now, our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search-and-rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency, and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.”
He continues to show a calm demeanor in the face of disaster thereby satiating any concerns voters may have about his experience or record.
Conversely, Romney mentioned last year that he wanted to privatize FEMA and remove federal funding for the emergency management program. But recently, he said that, as president, he would “ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission.” His indecisiveness on this issue now has a natural disaster to lend itself to. Many Americans have to be wondering if the recovery efforts they are seeing Obama in charge of right now would be possible under a potential President Romney.
Bipartisan Support from Gov. Christie
With almost shocking expedience, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey (R) was very vocal about his adoration for Obama’s handling of the rescue efforts and evacuation initiatives in his state. Some have questioned whether this was a genuine support of the President’s efforts or if Christie’s words hid an underlying desire to secure support for New Jersey if the President is re-elected. Truly, Christie does benefit from supporting Obama because the incumbent will be in office at least through the end of the year. And New Jersey will need massive amounts of recovery dollars to recoup their monumental damages. But no one can claim to know what Christie’s motives were.
But, what does Christie’s support do for Romney? Nothing really. If anything, it hurts Romney. Christie was asked repeatedly to enter the presidential election. And, he has been a Romney supporter since establishing that he would not be running himself. When many undecideds and Independents have cited Obama’s lack of bipartisanship as a key reason why they support Romney, Christie’s gushing over the President completely disproves that notion. And, it’s opportunities like these that help boost Obama’s credibility among voters that he needs most.
So, what does this all mean? Well, right now, it’s uncertain what this all means. It could mean nothing at all. Many have speculated that the election may be delayed. This is highly unlikely because the US Constitution mandates the date of the election. And, the effects of Super Storm Sandy haven’t happened on a large enough scale to delay the election country wide. But, could this limit the number of votes cast? Surely.
From an analytical perspective, the well-respected FiveThirtyEight Forecast has reported an increased likelihood that the incumbent will win on Election Day noting a 79% chance he’ll be re-elected. But, there are at least 5 million people who are virtually untouchable and un-poll-able right now. Many of whom are in Democratic-leaning states. And, even after the storm waters are cleared and power is restored, Americans in the devastated areas are very unlikely to have the time or energy to devote to the Presidential Election.
My take on this is that Hurricane Sandy will probably draw voters away from Governor Romney. Because he is the challenger, the American voter may feel more inclined to stick with someone who already knows the job. This is especially so because Obama has been seen throughout this emergency with prominent Republican leaders thus proving that, when Americans are in need, he’ll do what it takes to get the job done. Since Obama has handled this emergency with grace, he more than likely will be “the guy” on Tuesday. But, what do I know?
In essence, we can’t know much right now. But, what we do know is that there are many of our fellow citizens who need our help. And, politics as usual isn’t going to address those needs. No matter who wins on Tuesday, it was a hard fought race that needs to slow down and address a major disaster. And, I’m confident that out recovery efforts and American fortitude we’ll get us all through this.
To donate to Hurricane Sandy victims, see here.
For a host of ways to support those in need, see here.