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Fair weather voters: do Canadians stay at home when the weather is bad?

Abstract

What is the relationship between precipitation and the temperature on turnout? Using data on the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2015 Canadian federal elections, we try to answer this question. Through bivariate and multi-variate statistics, we find that each millimeter of precipitation decreases turnout by more than 0.1 percentage points. When it comes to the temperature, our results indicate that higher temperatures trigger higher turnout. However, we also find that these relationships are influenced by season and only apply to spring, summer, and fall elections. In the winter 2006 elections, the association was inversed; warmer temperatures in this election triggered lower turnout, in particular when it was combined with precipitation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although desirable, including additional elections prior to 2004 was not feasible as Canada underwent major redistricting prior to the 2004 elections.

  2. 2.

    In the Canadian context, a similar negative effect is often found during winter elections for so-called “snowbirds” who spend the winter outside of Canada in warmer climates. For them, postal voting might be too difficult and costly (Elections Canada 2006, p. 8; LeDuc and Pammett 2006).

  3. 3.

    A slightly different type of analysis distinguishes between two forms of precipitation, rainfall and snowfall, and their influence on turnout. For example, two US studies, by Gomez et al. (2007) and Fraga and Hersh (2010) find that rain has a stronger negative effect on voting than snowfall, despite its overall moderate influence.

  4. 4.

    In addition, several studies have focused on the partisan electoral implications of weather-related turnout decreases. In the majority, these studies concur that conservative parties benefit from this turnout decline. For example, Gomez et al. (2007) report that in US presidential elections every inch of rain above the election day normal results in a 2.5% increase in the Republican vote share (0.098% per 1 mm increase). Gatrell and Bierly confirm these results for the 2012 general election in the State of Kentucky. Similarly, Eisinga, et al. (2012a) find that right-leaning parties benefit from inclement weather; if the weather is bad, each right leaning party gains one seat in the Dutch parliament, whereas, left-leaning parties lose approximately one seat. Arnold and Freier (2016) highlight that in German local and state elections, rain-related turnout decreases also benefit the success of the conservative CDU, at the expense of the more left-wing SPD. Finally, Artés (2014) confirms that turnout increases due to dry and pleasant weather hurt the vote share of the Spanish conservatives, primarily to the benefit of small left-wing parties.

  5. 5.

    The studies, we cite here, measuring the influence of precipitation on turnout, normally do not control for temperature.

  6. 6.

    Matsusaka and Palda (1999) also report that rainfall does not influence electoral participation in their study.

  7. 7.

    Officially, Canada has had fixed election dates since 2007, with elections occurring on the third Monday in October. In practice, this rule was not followed either in 2008 or 2011. Although this law increases pressure to hold elections at regular intervals, to date only the 2015 election was held on the prescribed date, and the instability of minority governments makes early elections possible and even likely in the federal elections to come.

  8. 8.

    We excluded Canada’s three artic territories from the analysis. Additionally, we excluded the electoral district of Durham for the year 2004 due to the unavailability of census data.

  9. 9.

    Before the 2015 election, federal electoral districts underwent regular decennial redistricting that moved some electoral boundaries and created 30 new ridings. To account for this, our pooled models include only those 2015 districts which lost no more than 40% of their territory in the redistricting, and gained no more that 40% new territory, as calculated by the Pundit’s Guide to Canadian Elections (Funke 2017). In total, we matched 93% of the 2004–2011 districts to a 2015 district.

  10. 10.

    We used electoral districts instead of polling sub-divisions as census data were unavailable for these smaller areas. The same applies to more precise weather data.

  11. 11.

    Ideally, we would have liked to use the 2016 census for the 2015 election; however, not all the necessary data had been released at the time of data collection.

  12. 12.

    Stephen Harper’s Conservative government abolished the mandatory long-form census, replacing it with the optional National Household Survey, which collected the same information. The mandatory short-form census did continue to exist for more basic demographic data, and was used for population and age data in our sample.

  13. 13.

    We exclude the three districts of Canada’s artic territories due to their size, extreme weather, low population and incredibly different social and political realities from the rest of Canada.

  14. 14.

    Because of the different seasons during which our five elections took place, it is impossible to create one graph displaying the influence of temperature or precipitation on turnout.

  15. 15.

    Unfortunately, we could not consider early voting, which ranged from 5.5 in 2004 to 20.5% in 2015.

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Correspondence to Daniel Stockemer.

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Stockemer, D., Wigginton, M. Fair weather voters: do Canadians stay at home when the weather is bad?. Int J Biometeorol 62, 1027–1037 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-018-1506-6

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Keywords

  • Precipitation
  • Temperature
  • Weather
  • Turnout
  • Canada