The Politics of Disaster: Tracking the Impact of Hurricane Andrew

The Politics of Disaster: Tracking the Impact of Hurricane Andrew

The Politics of Disaster: Tracking the Impact of Hurricane Andrew

The Politics of Disaster: Tracking the Impact of Hurricane Andrew

Synopsis

From earthquakes to tornados, elected officials' responses to natural disasters can leave an indelible mark on their political careers. In the midst of the 1992 primary season, Hurricane Andrew overwhelmed South Florida, requiring local, state, and federal emergency responses. The work of many politicians in the storm's immediate aftermath led to a curious "incumbency advantage" in the general election a few weeks later, raising the question of just how much the disaster provided opportunities to effectively "campaign without campaigning."
David Twigg uses newspaper stories, scholarly articles, and first person interviews to explore the impact of Hurricane Andrew on local and state political incumbents, revealing how elected officials adjusted their strategies and activities in the wake of the disaster. Not only did Andrew give them a legitimate and necessary opportunity to enhance their constituency service and associate themselves with the flow of external assistance, but it also allowed them to achieve significant personal visibility and media coverage while appearing to be non-political or above "normal" politics.
This engrossing case study clearly demonstrates why natural disasters often privilege incumbents. Twigg not only sifts through the post-Andrew election results in Florida, but he also points out the possible effects of other past (and future) disaster events on political campaigns in this fascinating and prescient book.

Excerpt

Everything was impacted, from air quality to finances. The city was dev
astated, 22 square miles of devastation. And we had dollars that poured
into this city that we were not prepared to deal with. I think probably
for a year the air quality was badly, badly contaminated…. I think
Hurricane Andrew affected every facet of our lives. From the minute it
started blowing to today.

1992 elected official from Homestead, Florida, one of the cities hit hardest by
Hurricane Andrew, speaking ten years later

Most public officials, especially at the local level, go their entire political lives without having to deal directly with a major natural disaster. Nevertheless, someone must be in office when a disaster strikes, and it is often (if only implicitly) assumed that elected officials will be politically damaged by such an event. This perspective, however, underestimates officeholders, who in most cases worked assiduously to achieve public positions, and it would be more analytically useful to view disasters as political challenges to which officials respond and adapt. This study takes precisely that perspective and focuses on how, why, and with what results local and state public officials in Florida modified their campaigns in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. This is therefore the story of the interaction between a major U.S. disaster and the alleged “incumbency advantage” enjoyed by sitting officeholders.

The Incumbency Advantage

Since the 1970s, political scientists have focused on the advantages of incumbents. David Mayhew (1974a; 1974b) and Richard Fenno (1973; 1978) showed that congressional incumbents had the ability to garner . . .

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