Romney should pray for rain because rain improves a conservative’s chances of getting elected. Having covered this ‘Republican rain advantage’ in my last post, I will turn to a second reason why the presidential candidates should monitor the election day weather in this post. It turns out that the weather influences how well the government is perceived. Could this be exploited by the candidates?
The weather has got a curious effect on the government’s approval ratings. Alex Cohen looked at Bush’s approval ratings of the year 2005. He found that they were significantly better when the sun was out at the respondent’s location compared to ambiguous weather. Note that this is opposite to the ‘Republican rain advantage’ covered in the last post suggesting that a different explanation needs to be found to explain this one.
The easiest explanation would be this: it is a simple coincidence. However, German researchers Michael Mutz and Sylvia Kämpfer did a similar analysis for German polling data gathered in 2008. Just like Cohen they found sunshine to increase government satisfaction. Going beyond this ‘incumbent sunshine advantage’, they found that a rainy day actually reduced government satisfaction. It should be noted that in 2008 Germany was ruled by a so called grand coalition formed by the two main centre-right and centre-left parties. Therefore, the Republican rain advantage cannot account for this effect either. So, given a replication in a different year and a completely different democratic system, there must be a reason for this effect other than coincidence.
But is it worth our time to dwell on this issue? Yes it is. Compared to what sort of things political candidates – and the media – usually focus on, the weather effect is substantial. In Germany it was found to be stronger than the effect of gender and appeared comparable to the effect of education. In the US study it was, depending on season, stronger than the effect of age, unemployment or income. In other words, if it is worth worrying about ‘the female vote’ or the ‘pensioner vote’ it is also worth looking at the weather effect.
The reason given for this ‘incumbent sun advantage’ mirror to some degree what I suggested to be the reason for the ‘Republican rain advantage’. The effect of weather on mood is the key link. By and large, sunshine improves mood. Whether it does so directly by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin or indirectly by facilitating outdoor events with friends does not matter. Once the weather has changed your mood there are three ways it can cloud your judgement. First, the information we take in tends to conform to our mood – mood-congruent attention. Second, the more a memory agrees with our mood the more likely it is to be remembered – mood-congruent memory. Third, when faced with complex, vague or unimportant decisions people tend to be guided by their gut feeling, i.e. they use their mood as explicit information for their judgement.
In sum, when you are asked to evaluate the government and the sun is shining, you are more likely to attend to something good, remember something good and have your assessment clouded by your good gut feeling. No wonder you tend to evaluate the government as better even though it is not responsible for the weather.
However, this effect has no obvious application for the candidates. Obama appears to benefit from the political climate as much as from the actual weather. Romney, though, will have to pray for rain – or hope that the good feelings not just lead to a better assessment of the incumbent but also of the challenger.
Cohen, A. (2011). The photosynthetic President: Converting sunshine into popularity The Social Science Journal, 48 (2), 295-304 DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2010.11.007
Mutz, M., & Kämpfer, S. (2011). …und nun zum Wetter: Beeinflusst die Wetterlage die Einschätzung von politischen und wirtschaftlichen Sachverhalten? Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 40 (4), 208-226
If you liked this post, you may also like its sister post:
1) By White House photo by Eric Draper [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2) By Pete Souza for The Official White House Photostream (P042409PS-0122) via Wikimedia Commons
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