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In the aftermath and devastation that followed Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the East Coast early last week the media pundits and blogosphere lit up with people crying global warming, people disparaging those who cried global warming, and those calling for rationality in the wake of such a disaster. Regardless of whether or not Sandy was the next (or first) in a long line of Global Warming fueled storms, it got lots of people talking about, and like some of us have pointed out in the past, the only people NOT talking about it are the politicians.

Just days before the storm hit, MTV, of all things, sat down with President Obama to discuss the issue of Global Warming. After pointing out that Global Climate Change has been discussed in every presidential debate since 1988 – except for the three this year – interviewer Sway Williams asked the President, basically, what are you going to do about it? His response was less than ideal.

The answer is, number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.

How he can expect that we will move forward and make progress on this critical issue if we’re not talking about it is baffling. Topics don’t just come up at debates, candidates have to bring them up, and so when something like that doesn’t come up it’s because both candidates don’t want to talk about – it’s no surprise. But, as I have pointed out before, the undecided voter is likely to be swayed by climate talk. Hurricane Sandy got people talking, if even a little bit, and it has resulted in some slight gains for Obama.

When talking about a single weather event, such as a hurricane, in the context of larger climate issues it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that either, yes it is part of climate change, or no, it is not. Obviously, though, the issue is much more complex than that. Colorado School of Mines Professor Dr. Christian Shorey spoke to his class on the morning of the 29th to break down and analyze how one storm fits in with the greater climatic conditions. The video runs 14:29 but is worth watching.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about is there something about this that is tied with global warming and climate and things like that. Of course your first reaction as a climatologist is, no, this is a weather event. It’s not a climate event because climate is the long term state of the atmosphere, but at the same time it is a data point within the data points that make up climate and I think there are some things we can say are linking this situation that we’ll see today to climate.

The basic thing to take from Dr. Shorey’s lecture is that there is no causal link between Global Warming and Sandy, but that tangentially other aspects of Climate Change can be seen to have strengthened and worsened Sandy. Global Warming doesn’t necessarily make bad storms happen – or happen more often – but makes bad storms worse. As he said quoted above, it’s just one data point among many, but many data points make a trend.

The same thing can be seen in politics. Real Clear Politics is a polling organization that follows the averages of other major polls across the nation. Taking the general election day-to-day, there are a few major events that can be looked at to try to identify a trend, just like in weather there are major storms that can be looked at to identify wider climate trends. The major events of the past 10 weeks that I’m going to focus on are the two party conventions, the 3 debates, and finally hurricane Sandy. Warning, there are lots of numbers ahead.

Coming into the Republican National Convention, which ran from August 27th to August 30th, the RCP Poll Average placed Obama at 46.8% and Romney at 45.7%. The day after the event Romney saw a not-insignificant bump, bringing the numbers closer to square with Obama at 46.4% and Romney at 46.1%. In the days following they both made gains leading up to the Democratic National Convention. The DNC ran from September 4th through September 6th and before the event Obama and Romney were sitting at a near tie with 46.8% for the President and 46.7% for Romney. The day after the event, the RCP Poll Average showed a half a point increase for Obama bringing the numbers to 47.3% to 46.0%. Romney lost all the ground he had gained between the events and was set to continue falling in the polls, while Obama was set to peak at more than 49% at several points in the weeks leading up to the first debate.

Real Clear Politics Poll Average Graph

Real Clear Politics Poll Average Graph
Source: Real Clear Politics

The first debate, held on October 3rd was widely seen as a devastating loss for the Obama camp, and the numbers reflect this. The day before the event, RCP placed Obama at 49.1% and Romney at back up to 46.0%. Following the President’s dismal performance, though, the polls on the 4th showed Obama at 49.0% – a modest loss compared to Romney’s .4% gain bringing him up to 46.4%. That trend continued into the second debate where we see Romney leading the President for the first time 47.0% to 47.4% (a trend that had begun a week before during the Vice Presidential debate). The second debate, held on October 16th, was seen to the media as a wash and the trend that had been established at the first debate continued with RCP showing Obama at 46.7% the day after the event and Romney at 47.7% – a whole point favoring Romney. Finally, coming into the third debate on October 22nd, the candidates stood with 47.2% for Obama and 47.6% for Romney. Afterwards, Obama had made no ground and Romney had another couple of tenths for 47.2% vs 47.8%

As can be seen, each event in and of itself had very little effect, but together were indicative of larger trends, just as great storms themselves mean little in terms of the climate as a whole, but when analyzed as a set of data points can show overall trends. Sandy in and of itself was not a harbinger of Global Warming, but it was probably worsened because of other factors of Climate Change that together show a new trend in big storms. Sandy made landfall on October 29th, and the day before that the RCP Poll Average placed Romney ahead of Obama by nearly a whole point again with 46.8% for the President to Romney’s 47.6%. The day after, though, with Obama’s response to the crises and the breaking of his silence on Climate Change issues, saw the election in a dead heat with both candidates sitting pretty at 47.4%. With the election nearly over it could go either way, but one thing seems to be true: recognizing that storms like Hurricane Sandy, which evidence Climate Change trends, affect polling trends. Even if each event itself affects only a slight change, a slight change is sometimes all it takes to make or break a trend.