Climate change may drive quicker rates of political turnover, says Harvard researcher

political turnover

By 2099 the nature of democratic politics could change in costly ways for politicians because of climate change, says Nick Obradovich of Harvard University

The paper is published in Climatic Change.

Leveraging a century’s worth of political science research, the researcher predicts that voters’ disgruntlement about the societal effects of climatic extremes and weather-related disasters will translate into more frequent turnover of political parties elected in and out of office.

Obradovich conducted the first-ever investigation into the relationship between temperature, electoral returns and future climate change.

He analyzed over 1.5 billion votes cast in over 4,800 electoral contests held in 19 countries between 1925 and 2011, and coupled it with meteorological data as well as climate models.

Election results from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, the United States and Zambia were used.

However, countries lacking available electoral data – including most Sub-Saharan African nations – weren’t included.

The analysis indicates that warmer than normal temperatures in the year prior to an election produce lower vote shares for parties already in power, driving quicker rates of political turnover.

These effects are even more acute in areas with annual temperatures above 21 degrees Celsius (or 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

In these warmer places, voter support shrinks by 9% points from one election to the next, relative to office bearers in cooler electoral districts.

Using these historical effects, the researcher forecasts that by 2099 climate change (when temperatures are expected to have risen by up to five degrees Celsius) may reduce the average vote share of office-bearing parties, especially in poorer, already warmer countries.

According to him, turnover directly related to politician performance is vital to a well-functioning democracy.

He notes, however, that findings from the study indicate that democratic turnover might increase as a result of climatic events that are outside the control of individual politicians.

He also adds that the uncertainty caused by increasing rates of democratic turnover can in turn directly upset macroeconomic outcomes on a broader scale.

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Citation: Obradovich, N. (2016). Climate change may speed democratic turnover, Climatic Change, published online. DOI 10.1007/s10584-016-1833-8.
Figure legend: This image is credited to Whitney.