The Weather During The Iowa Caucus Could Be Game-Changing

The Iowa caucuses will be very white this year, and I'm not just talking about the voter demographics. A significant winter storm is set to hit the state on Monday night, just as Iowans are headed out to cast the first votes of the 2016 election, and if there's snow during the Iowa caucuses, that could potentially affect voter turnout. While the chances of the weather actually tipping the scales in favor of one candidate or another are slim, they're not entirely non-existent.

Caucusing in Iowa officially begins at 7:00 p.m. on Feb. 1, and snow will begin falling in western Iowa that same evening. But the bulk of the snow won't hit until early in the morning on Tuesday, according to the meteorologists at AccuWeather, and so the storm isn't likely to snow in would-be voters to the extent that they can't attend the caucuses.

What's more likely is that Iowans will have to brave the snow on the way back from the caucuses. Of course, because many people keep track of the weather forecasts and plan accordingly (I'm not one of those people, but I hear they exist), it's possible that the prospect of having to drive back home through the snow will dissuade some people from heading out to the caucuses to begin with.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that some undetermined number of people stay home on caucus night on account of the snow. How might that affect the outcome of the caucuses? That touches on a broader and somewhat contentious question in electoral politics: Does bad weather suppress voter turnout? There's a general belief in the United States that yes, it does, but the data is far from conclusive, because it's an extremely difficult thing to measure. Every election is its own beast, with unique candidates, unique issues facing the local electorate, a unique political climate on the national level, and of course, unique weather.

That said, it's worth noting that two of the candidates in the race — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — are expecting to rely on heavily on first-time voters in their efforts to win Iowa. Motivating somebody to get out to the polls for the first time in their life is a heavy lift, and while it's impossible to know how first-time Iowa voters will react to the prospect of snow on caucus night, it's safe to say that the Trump and Sanders campaigns would like their supporters to face as few obstacles as possible when they head out to caucus.

In all likelihood, the snow will be little more than an inconvenience. But if Trump and Sanders ever considered investing in buses to transport their Iowa supporters to the caucuses, now would be the time to make that happen.