Flooding The Vote: Hurricane Katrina and Voter Participation in New Orleans

Working Paper No.: 
70
Date Published: 
11/30/2008
Author(s): 
Thad E. Hall
University of Utah
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The flooding of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina resulted in a massive and rapid exodus of individuals from New Orleans to locations around the United States. In the midst of the hurricane recovery, the City of New Orleans reelected Mayor Ray Nagin to a second term in office. Arguments regarding when this election would be held were
largely driven by views regarding the impact of the diaspora on the voting population in New Orleans. With more than half of the city’s population gone, the unknown was who would be able to vote. We use voting record data from twenty election cycles, GIS-coded flood depth data, and census data to examine the voting behavior of registered voters in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. We apply a variety of statistical techniques,
including propensity score matching methods, to compare the mayoral turnout of registered voters across flood depths. We find that registered voters who experienced more than six feet of flooding were more likely to participate in the mayoral election than registered voters who experienced less flooding. We attribute this to their increased motivation to participate in municipal politics in conjunction with voter mobilization efforts in
the wake of Katrina. Our finding about the characteristics of the voters who participated in the mayoral election given the flooding provides us insights into the scope of change for the political landscape of New Orleans after the hurricane.

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