Scott Brown vs. Martha Coakley: will bad weather affect vote?

As the Scott Brown vs. Martha Coakley contest for the Massachusetts Senate seat comes to a head, some experts say bad weather on voting day Tuesday could help Democrat Coakley.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP
Scott Brown (R) campaigns at the Kenmore Diner in Worcester, Mass., Sunday.
Alex Brandon / AP
Democratic senate candidate, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley reacts as President Barack Obama (not pictured) speaks at a campaign rally for her at Northeastern University in Boston, Sunday.

When voters head to the polls Tuesday to vote in the Massachusetts Senate race, they might have to battle snow and rain to get there. Will that help either candidate?

The forecast in many parts of the state calls for cold, wet weather – which could keep some voters at home.

That could ultimately benefit Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, says pollster David Paleologos of Suffolk University in Boston, who has conducted polling on this race.

Because the worst weather is supposed to hit the more conservative towns of northern and western Massachusetts, voters who might typically favor state Sen. Scott Brown (R) could have a more difficult time making it to the polls, Mr. Paleologos says.

Voter turnout is already expected to be lower than in a regular November election. People aren’t used to having to vote this time of year and there’s only one seat on the ballot.

“We have no idea what normal turnout would be because we’ve never done this before,” says Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant based in the state. “It’s such a weird animal we have here. A January election is something we’ve never done.”

High-stakes race

But this race has also received unexpected national attention due to its implications for healthcare reform and other issues crucial to President Obama’s agenda.

Ms. Coakley has promised to support the healthcare reform bill currently in Congress, which would give the Senate the necessary 60th vote to defeat any GOP filibuster and give the bill final approval. But Mr. Brown, little known before this race but currently leading most polls, has vowed to vote down the bill.

With such high stakes, the race has drawn campaign donations and star politicians from across the country in recent days. Mr. Obama and former President Bill Clinton made campaign appearances for Coakley this weekend, while Brown found stumping help in former Mayor Rudy Giuliani Friday.

Link between weather and voting

Still, it’s unclear just who might turn out Tuesday to vote or what impact inclement weather might have.

No study has conclusively linked weather to low voter turnout, says Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

But Suffolk’s Paleologos thinks that snowy weather could have an impact on the race of between half a point to 2 or 3 points. He conducted polling earlier this week of likely voters that placed Brown ahead of Coakley by 4 points, but within the margin of error for the poll. In that scenario, the weather could be a major factor.

But Paleologos also conducted polling over the weekend in three bellwether communities that returned results nearly identical to the final state’s final tallies in the 2006 Senate race. Those three communities have Brown leading by a 14-point margin – enough that a few points lost to weather would not affect the outcome of the race.


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