Does weather affect turnout on polling day?

Short answer: no. Long answer: probably not

June 08, 2017
Rain does not have a measurable effect on election turnout. Photo: PA
Rain does not have a measurable effect on election turnout. Photo: PA

“Let’s just hope the weather is good!” is the catchphrase of the worried Labour activist. “A frightening prospect for Labour” is how Anthony Howard once referred to evening rain, which was thought to put off working-class voters who would head to the polls after tea.

Conventional wisdom has it—and has long had it—that low turnout is particularly bad for Labour, and that rain is particularly bad for turnout. Thus, on every polling day, there’s always a number of people turning a worried eye to the heavens.

In truth, they needn’t worry. Because however prevalent the myth that weather affects turnout, it is just that: a myth.

According to Stephen Fisher, a researcher in politics at Oxford University (and contributor to these pages), there is no obvious correlation between how people vote and what the sky looks like when they do it.

This was just as true in the 15 years of elections prior to 2002, which Fisher analysed, as it was in last year’s EU referendum, where bad weather across the south east—which, again, caused worry for activists—in fact had little impact on turnout (or the result).

That’s the short version. The long one, you’ll note, had a caveat.

That caveat is this: that weather can affect turnout if it has a noticeable impact on whether or not people can get to the polls.

This means that if there are severe transport issues, or closed polling stations, there could be some impact—as John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, has noted previously.

But today’s weather, irksome as it may be, is unlikely to cause huge disruptions: so Labour can go to the polls with confidence.

Well. Maybe.