How Geography Influences Voting Behavior

Mark Altaweel


Elections are often seen as mainly concerning what voters want in a politician. However, spatial attributes often have a strong influence in how people vote as evidenced by the studies discussed in this article.  

For example, the demographic makeup of a district affects voter turnout.  Interestingly, the size of the voting district also has an impact on voter participation in elections as well as redistricting (the creation of new political districts).  

Weather, especially those events strong enough to cause a natural disaster can also suppress voter turnout.

How the Racial Diversity of a District Affects Voting

One example is how race influence voting behavior based on spatial circumstances. In a study in Louisiana covering the 2000-2008 election cycles, using a series of hierarchical linear models, it was shown that voters from more racial homogenous areas are more likely to turn out to vote.[1] In effect, there is greater encouragement in such areas for participating in the electoral process.

The Size of the District Affects Voter Participation

Similar spatial results have been shown in other countries, where voters who have been concentrated in larger rather than smaller districts often feel more disenfranchised and are more likely to be less interested in voting or feel their vote matters less.[2] In effect, larger voting districts make individuals perceive they have less influence on the political system.

Redistricting Affects Voter Turnout

In another study in Florida, it was shown that redistricting has had a significant effect on voter turnout. When redistricting occurs, then voters have to find their new place of voting prior to the next election. Using a multinomial logit model, this was shown to affect the ability of voters to turnout and vote, as people might be less familiar with their new polling station or have greater difficulty reaching it.[3]

A Look at How Geography Affected Voting in the Phillipines

In this brief video, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), a watchdog group outlined how voter location affected who they voted for in the recent 2016 elections.

How Weather Impacts Voter Participation

Other spatial correlation approaches show the effect of weather and natural disasters on voting. Results from India, using regression modeling, show that natural disasters are likely to cause people to vote against a ruling party. Interestingly, this was found to be true irrespective of education levels.

However, if the ruling party can act vigorously, through aid and relief, particularly near the time of elections, then this can mitigate voter anger. Nevertheless, responses by governments were found to only mildly mitigate a bad election result.[4]

Voting and the US Presidential Elections

This brief news clip reviews the results of a survey by the Journal of Politics that took a look at voter turnout between 1987 and 2007 covering 14 presidential elections and correlated it with weather data from 22,000 weather stations.  The study found that every 1″ increase in rainfall correlated with a 1% decrease in voter turnout.

Electoral Geography

If you’re interested in the geography of elections, the Electoral Geography 2.0 is a blog you need to have on your list of election sites to visit. The site lists the results for each state primary at the county level.

The site isn’t just about the primaries in the United States. There are extensive results lists for other countries, most recently listing the Serbian and Cyprus presidential election results.

Click on the “archives” and you can browse through election results dating back to 1910. Each page has a random map thumbnail you can click on to see a larger version. Unfortunately, a listing of all maps on the site wasn’t apparent and it would be nice to see accompanying text to discuss each map. If exploring the site leaves you hungry for more, the links tab provides further related sites.


[1] For more on the influence of racial concentration in voting, see:  Zingher, J. N., & Steen Thomas, M. (2014). The Spatial and Demographic Determinants of Racial Threat: Spatial Determinants of Racial Threat. Social Science Quarterly 95, 4, 1137-1154.

[2] For more on how concentrating voters in fewer areas affects voting behavior, see: Saarimaa, T., & Tukiainen, J. (2016). Local representation and strategic voting: Evidence from electoral boundary reforms. European Journal of Political Economy, 41, 31–45.

[3] For more on the role of redistricting has on voting, see:  Amos, B., Smith, D. A., & Ste. Claire, C. (2016). Reprecincting and Voting Behavior. Political Behavior.

[4] For more on how natural disasters affect voting, see:  Cole, S., Healy, A., & Werker, E. (2012). Do voters demand responsive governments? Evidence from Indian disaster relief. Journal of Development Economics, 97(2), 167–181.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

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