The winds of change? Exploring political effects of Hurricane Andrew

David K Twigg, Florida International University


Before dawn on August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed into south Florida, particularly southern Dade County, and soon become the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Andrew's impacts quickly overwhelmed local and state emergency response capabilities and eventually required major federal assistance, including regular military units. While the social and economic impacts of Hurricane Andrew are relatively well researched, much less attention has been given to its possible political effects. Focusing on incumbent officeholders at three levels (municipal, state legislative, and statewide) who stood for reelection after Hurricane Andrew, this study seeks to determine whether they experienced any political effects from Andrew. That is, this study explores the possible interaction between the famous “incumbency advantage” and an “extreme event,” in this case a natural disaster. The specific foci were (1) campaigns and campaigning (a research process that included 43 personal interviews), and (2) election results before and after the event. Given well-documented response problems, the working hypothesis was that incumbents experienced largely negative political fallout from the disaster. The null hypothesis was that incumbents saw no net political effects, but the reverse hypothesis was also considered: incumbents benefited politically from the event. In the end, this study found that although the election process was physically disrupted, especially in south Dade County, the disaster largely reinforced the incumbency advantage. More specifically, the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew allowed most incumbent officeholders to (1) enhance constituency service, (2) associate themselves with the flow of external assistance, (3) achieve major personal visibility and media coverage, and yet (4) appear non-political or at least above normal politics. Overall, this combination allowed incumbents to very effectively “campaign without campaigning,” a point borne out by post-Andrew election results.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Twigg, David K, "The winds of change? Exploring political effects of Hurricane Andrew" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3151975.