Matthew Hisrich discusses the role of disasters and disaster relief in presidential elections:"Did the Florida Hurricanes Cost Kerry the Election?"
I learned about this from Joshua Hall in a post on "The Political Economy of Disaster Relief" at the blog Division of Labour. Hall also links to an abstract of the Economic Inquiry article "The Political Economy of FEMA Disaster Payments" by Thomas Garrett and Russell Sobel.
"We find that presidential and congressional influences affect the rate of disaster declaration and the allocation of FEMA disaster expenditures across states. States politically important to the president have a higher rate of disaster declaration by the president, and disaster expenditures are higher in states having congressional representation on FEMA oversight committees. Election year impacts are also found. Our models predict that nearly half of all disaster relief is motivated politically rather than by need. The findings reject a purely altruistic model of FEMA assistance and question the relative effectiveness of government versus private disaster relief."
Garrett is an economist with the St. Louis Fed. His bio there (the link above) lists his publications, and includes a link to "Political Allocation of Agriculture Disaster Payments in the 1990s." The abstract to this reads:
"Legislation passed during the 1990s attempted to move U.S. agriculture disaster relief to a more market oriented process. The failure of this legislation has been attributed to the political system behind agricultural disaster relief. This paper explores the impact of political influence on the allocation of U.S. direct agriculture disaster payments. The results reveal that disaster payments are not based solely on need, but are higher in those states represented by public officials key to the allocation of relief. The effectiveness of legislation aimed at promoting more efficient disaster payments systems, such as crop insurance, over direct cash payments is also examined."
Sobel is a professor at West Virginia University. Sobel is quoted in this story on the relationship between the hurricane and the election in The Mercury News.
"...Should Ivan's remnants make their way to the Mid-Atlantic, as they may, another battleground state, Pennsylvania, might be similarly situated. In short, experts say, in terms of disaster assistance, it's best to be in a big state where people are having trouble making up their minds.
All politics may well be local, but almost half of all disaster assistance is political, concluded two economists in a paper published last year.
"Florida is a politically important state," noted Russell Sobel of West Virginia University, coauthor of the paper. He said he was not surprised to see it getting this kind of attention..."