Do disasters impact on votes?

The Rena

A University of Auckland research student has arrived in Tauranga to gently prise open two major local disasters to gain an insight into how they affected voting behaviour.

Misha Parkinson, a political studies and geography graduate, is writing a 12,000 word dissertation for his Honours and has opted to take a rare and unusual look at the Rena shipping disaster – the country’s worst maritime environmental disaster – and the recent breached flood bank at Edgecumbe which caused 1600 residents to be evacuated.

“Generally people have a particular viewpoint and a particular expectation of a government or council when their lives are impacted by a Rena or Edgecumbe situation,” says Misha. “They may vote for an alternative political candidate because they’re dissatisfied with the way the current ones responded – or that the disaster was allowed to happen in the first place.”

There’s apparently some international literature on the subject. “But it’s mostly to do with quantitative data so you are looking at statistics and drawing a correlation between disasters and how people voted. I am trying a more qualitative approach.

“I am not trying to form a conclusive causality between disasters and voting behaviour – to say if something happens that people will vote a particular way. It’s more a view of things from the affected people themselves,” says Misha.

Apart from seeking views and opinions from the electorate, he will be talking to the politicians and local councils and asking how they think people perceived their responses. “I suppose from the academia perspective and my own perspective, there hasn’t been much study done on disasters and political response to them – especially from the viewpoint of people who are directly involved or impacted.”

And he is focusing on the local disasters, particularly Rena, because as far as he’s aware, that was the most politicised one.

Misha decided to pursue the subject after a chat with his University of Auckland supervisor. “His work is almost all to do with disaster and my interest is politics so we looked for a cross-over. So we came up with voting and disasters.”

If you have a viewpoint and would like to help Misha with his research email