An Election That Steers Clear of Climate Talk, During the Warmest Year Ever

Warm weather greets voters across the country, which may boost turnout, but it hasn't boosted talk of climate change.

HIllary Clinton visits an early voting site in Lauderhill, Fla.
Record-breaking warmth is expected to linger to Election Day, in a contest that has featured almost no mention of climate change. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

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Despite its near-absence from debates and mainstream political discussion this election season, dangerous climate change is still happening.

And as voters line up to cast their votes for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, they might be feeling the symptoms of it.

The warmth sweeping parts of the country right now is markedly above average—roughly 8 degrees above average, according to The Weather Channel’s storm specialist Carl Parker, and more like 15 degrees above average in some pockets.

Meridian, Miss., hit 91 degrees on Oct. 30 and 31. Trick-or-treaters in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia saw temperatures in the ’90s, too. In the Twin Cities, which Parker said has experienced a freeze before Nov. 7 every year since 1900, there isn’t a freeze in sight.

This ironic twist comes after three presidential debates without a single question that dealt directly with climate change. This is despite 2016 heading quickly toward being the hottest year on record. And despite Donald Trump’s promise to “cancel” the Paris climate agreement.

To some, the climate may not matter on Election Day. But the weather does.

It’s an old adage that Republicans should pray for rain because it lowers voter turnout and the higher the voter turnout, the better the results for Democrats. A 2007 study upheld that theory. The study, published in The Journal of Politics, found that for each inch of rain that falls on Election Day, voter turnout is impacted by roughly 1 percent.

That may seem like a small amount, but elections are often decided by small margins. The study said this could have made the difference in Florida in 2000. According to the authors, a dry day could have swung the election in Al Gore’s favor (though a rainier day could have landed the day securely in George W. Bush’s court).

The voting data used in that study was from 1948-2000, explained study author Brad Gomez, associate professor of Political Science at Florida State University. Since 2000, 34 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted early voting. Overall, Gomez said, you would expect early voting to mitigate the effects of weather, since people have longer to vote and in many states have the option of mailing in their ballot.

But there’s a catch.

Early voters—who this year may very well have gotten a tan on the way to cast their vote—tend to be core voters, “those who are typically more partisan and have stronger political views,” said Gomez. “The voters who are voting on Election Day are typically the more peripheral voters.” These voters are the sweet spot for candidates—the highly-coveted undecided voters, who can help swing an election.

Gomez theorizes that this could exacerbate the impact of bad weather on Election Day.

It’s unlikely you’ll find many people complaining this year.

“You see a lot of talk about the warmth and to some extent I guess people don’t mind it,” said Parker. “But the elephant in the room is that the planet is changing really dramatically, and it’s not some distant thing—it’s happening right now.”