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Oh Snap

Could Bad Weather Affect the Result of the General Election?

The Met Office is predicting heavy rain in Wales, the south-west, central and northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

by Tess Reidy
07 June 2017, 12:17pm

Summer is meant to officially start on the 21st of June, but as you can see from your nearest window, the weather's turned shit. It's wet and cold. You might have to put the heating on. Just for an hour.

But, more importantly than that, could this have an impact on this week's general election? The Met Office predict that heavy rain in Wales and south-west England will move into central and northern England tomorrow, and later into Scotland and Northern Ireland, followed by showers.

With some polls showing Theresa May short of the 326 seats she'd need for a majority, could the weather swing it for the Tories? Might first time Labour voters be more inclined to stay indoors? Or are old people less likely to leave the house?

I spoke to Stephen Fisher, Professor of Politics at Oxford University, who has studied the relationship between the weather and turnout, to get some answers.

VICE: Hi Steve. You've been looking into this for years – does the weather have an impact on turnout?
Steve: I think the weather can have an impact on turnout and results. but it's usually in local elections and it's not a very big impact. I've looked at the weather reports on election days since the war, and looked at the turnout, and across those 17 or so elections you don't see much of a pattern because there are much more important things driving turnout. The main pattern is that when the result tends to be quite close, turnout tends to be higher, and when you get the main parties offering a very different set of policies from each other, then turnout is likely to be higher.

I see. Do you think it could dissuade casual or first time Corbyn voters from turning up?
It does seem to be the case from previous research that when there is an effect it does tend to affect left-wing voting. It does push the left-wing vote down, and therefore the right-wing share of the vote up, because it suppresses turnout amongst people with lower levels of education and lower social economic groups. There's not good evidence to suggest that it would disproportionately affect young people. I don't know why we should consider young people as particularly averse to going out in the rain.

I don't mean just young people, also people who don't always vote.
The people who didn't vote last time may be more lax about whether they're going to vote or not, whereas the people who literally vote all the time will do so come hell or high water. So that's a reasonable hypothesis.

What about old people – are they likely to always go out regardless of the weather, or might some stay indoors if they're cold?
It is fair to say that old people might be more likely to be habitual voters and they do just turnout on a much more regular basis. So maybe those who vote in some elections, but not always, and vote depending on the circumstances – maybe they would be affected by the weather, and that might tip the balance of whether it's worth going or not.

In the countryside it can be harder to get to polling stations and people might have to walk further or get a bus. Might this have an impact if the weather is bad?
The first thing to note is that turnout in the countryside tends to be higher than in cities, but that's mainly because of the kinds of people that live there. It's more likely to be long-term residents who know where their polling station is, whereas cities are much more likely to be short-term residents who are not plugged into their constituency and are less likely to vote because of those circumstances. The other thing is that one of the suspicions in recent US research is that having a car helps when it's bad weather, being able to take the car to the polling station. In the UK, people in the countryside will be used to having to drive around and they can park easily, whereas in cities you might have to actually walk further.

Apparently there are theories that when it's raining people are more likely to vote for change. Is this something you've heard?
In truth, I've not heard of it. I'd be surprised if that's the case. The biggest change election we've had in decades was the 1997 Blair election, which happened on a bright sunny day – one of the best election day weathers we've had.

Is there any way Theresa May woke up this morning thinking this weather could be an advantage for her, or do you think the Tories won't be paying much attention to it?
I think they won't be paying much attention to it. One thing to say is that all parties, I hope, will be paying attention to the circumstances under which their grassroots party supporters are working, and they will probably be worried about whether their grassroots supports are going to be OK knocking on doors trying to remind people to vote, because actual contact from party workers does seem to be an important part of getting the vote out and turnout in UK elections. Surveys we have show that if you have been contacted by a party worker you are more likely to vote.

What are your predictions for Thursday?
I'm still working on my predictions. I've been agonising over what to make of the opinion polls, and at some point very soon I've got to make a choice. I think that it will depend hugely on which opinion polls you believe. Maybe they'll all be wrong and the result will be outside the range of all of them.

Who knows, could be an SNP majority. Thanks, Steve!

@tessreidy

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