The last time Britain went to the polls was for the referendum on leaving the EU in June last year. The result of that poll lead to a tumultuous 12 months in politics – starting with the resignation of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and ending with a General Election being called three years earlier than anticipated. Referendum day, June 23rd 2016, saw a massive downpour and flash flooding that led to the closing of some polling stations. Can the rain affect the result of an election?
A Spot of Rain
The British are used to a spot of rain. We don’t let it ruin our picnics or barbecues and it takes more than a heavy downpour and some flash flooding to prevent us from exercising our sovereign franchise. Putting up with rain and queueing are two great British institutions, a downpour on polling day allows us to do both.
A Scientific Test
Referendum day provided the perfect test of the theory that rain can affect turnout. The South was afflicted by summer storms and the North was balmy and sunny. There was a naturally occurring scientific test with Northerners acting as the control group. If turnout was down in the South then we would have evidence that rain affects electoral turnout.
There was no significant difference in turnout between those areas affected by heavy rain and those enjoying sunny weather. However, flash flooding on referendum day did cause some polling stations to close. Voters turning up to these stations were redirected to another. This flooding mainly happened in London. The population density of the capital is such that the next nearest polling station is only ever a short walk away. Flooding at a rural polling station might have a more significant effect on turnout with voters being unwilling to travel a few miles to cast their vote.
This Week’s Vote
This week has had its share of summer storms and there are more on the way. As the nation prepares to vote in one of the most important elections for a generation – whoever wins this one will be responsible for negotiating Brexit with the EU – it is a relief to know that rain will not dampen the democratic spirit.
Weather and elections are notoriously difficult to predict. One thing that seems clear though is that stormy summers with heavy downpours are here to stay. Due to changes in global weather patterns, the intensity and the frequency of these storms is increasing. This won’t be the last election that sees Britons happily queueing in the rain to post their ballot.
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