The Democrat Disaster: Hurricane Exposure, Risk Aversion and Insurance Demand

TitleThe Democrat Disaster: Hurricane Exposure, Risk Aversion and Insurance Demand
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsPahontu, RL
InstitutionLondon School of Economics & Political Science
KeywordsCausal inference, Insurance, natural disaster, Risk, uncertainty, voter behavior

How do voters respond to heightened risk? Dominant theories expect accountability issues to surface or distributional conflict to intensify once threats become salient. Unsatisfactorily, these accounts rely on compound treatment effects of exposure not only to risk but also to direct losses or self-selection into unfortunate circumstances. To circumvent this, I use difference-in-differences estimates of hurricane nearly-hit areas in the US to study the effect of risk on vote choice. I find that Democrats' vote share decreases in both House and Senate races between 2002-2014 following a near-miss. Conventional explanations related to religiosity, authority, or competence fail to explain this effect. Instead, I propose Republican gains are driven by voters' spending on private insurance and increased willingness to take risks when spared from disaster. I therefore advance an alternative explanation of voting under risk by relying on novel data on hurricane trajectories, precinct electoral returns, risk-aversion, and private insurance inquiries. These results are politically meaningful not least because US general elections follow closely after the hurricane season.

Citation Key12281