If it had been windier on November 8, then the election results might have looked very different, says research from Columbia Business School and Cambridge Judge Business School. A research paper titled Weather Affects Voting Decisions finds that the weather on Election Day affects voters’ decisions. Specifically, when wind speed increases, voters seek safety, risk aversion, and the status quo – what psychologists call a “prevention-focus.” In contrast, low winds shift voters toward greater change and the willingness to take a risk.
“While many studies have looked at the impact that rain has on election results, none have looked at the impact that wind can have,” says Jon Jachimowicz, a PhD candidate at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “Voters are influenced by not only the particular stances of political parties, candidates, or campaigns, but also by the environment on the day they make decisions.”
The research was co-authored by academics working in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany: Jachimowicz, Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School in Great Britain and the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany, and Adam Galinsky, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.
“Whether we know it or not, wind consistently affects how we vote in elections by appealing to the fundamental desire for either security or change,” says Galinsky.
The research examined the impact that wind speed had on voting behavior across one hundred years of US elections (1912–2012), ten years of Swiss referendums (2005–2014), and two crucial votes in Great Britain: the June 2016 “Brexit” decision to leave the European Union and the September 2014 vote in Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The study focused on actual voting decisions, not on whether foul weather lowers voter turnout.
“From a rational model of political behavior, voting on a windy or non-windy day should have no effect on election outcomes,” says Menges. “The results suggest, however, that in elections that feature a choice between prevention- and promotion-oriented options, wind speed has consequences for the outcome.”
“While wind does influence voters’ decisions, the research shows that the effect is admittedly small, impacting no more than 1% of the final vote,” says Galinsky. “However, as we have seen recently, sometimes 1% can make the difference or be extremely meaningful; just look at the difference in the popular vote from the November 8 presidential election.”
The research was completed prior to Donald Trump’s narrow win over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, so it didn’t specifically measure if President-Elect Trump, the change candidate, benefitted from low winds. But the closeness of the election, where a swing of just 110,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin could have changed the outcome, means that every factor, including wind, is worth watching in the future.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About Columbia Business School
Columbia Business School is the only world–class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School’s transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School’s faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School’s efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School’s position at the very center of business, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researchers
Adam Galinsky is currently the chair of the Management Division and the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School. Read more.