In 2009, on April 15 — the day that tax returns are due — a series of protests took place around America. The rallies were mainly of people angry about the bailouts and at what they perceived as the Obama administration’s drive to expand the role of government in American life.
On that day, the Tea Party as a significant force in American politics was born.
But was what followed influenced as much by luck as by other causes? That was the question a group of political scientists at Harvard recently set out to answer.
They found, unsurprisingly, a link between the weather on that day and the size of turnout at those original protests. But their really fascinating finding was that the presence or absence of sunshine on that day predicted which places would have the most active and engaged Tea Party organizations.
But there’s more. That one day’s weather went on to influence political decisions in subsequent months and years. This is from a Bloomberg report on the study:
It’s easy to imagine how this works. Showing up at a rally increases the chances of getting more involved, making a donation or bringing a friend to another event. Larger and more successful rallies also boost subsequent media coverage of the movement, further increasing community interest.
What’s more, the Tea Party experiment shows that the activism catalyzed by those sunny days translates into real political influence. Politicians whose districts were sunny on tax day voted in a more reliably conservative fashion throughout 2009 and 2010. Indeed, the absence of rain in a Congressional district on April 15, 2009 made its representative 8.7 percentage points more likely to vote against the Affordable Care Act. Had the weather at those early rallies been sunnier, it’s possible that Obama’s signature legislation wouldn’t have passed.
The researchers found similar effects in congressional elections.
It’s often said that the best politicians “make the weather.” Perhaps we underestimate how much the weather makes politicians.
Picture of 2009 Tea Party protest at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut by Wikipedia