A number of political analysts have labeled Hurricane Sandy as one of the factors that helped Barack Obama win re-election. Here, for instance, is a typical news analysis about it. Some conservatives have even gone so far as to say that the hurricane gave the election to Obama. It wasn’t the fault of the Romney campaign that he lost; it was the hurricane.
By the by, Obama wasn’t the only president who managed to get a hurricane to hit a major American city during his term. Our previous president George W. Bush also had the good luck of having a hurricane hit a major city in 2005. Strangely, however, Hurricane Katrina did not improve Bush’s popularity. In fact, his approval ratings plunged after the hurricane.
Why did Obama benefit from Hurricane Sandy, while the opposite happened with Bush and Hurricane Katrina?
This is of course a rhetorical question. Natural disasters are politically neutral events. They can hurt or help an incumbent. What matters is the response, not the hurricane.
Obama’s administration responded competently and effectively to Hurricane Sandy. He thus gained political benefit. Bush’s administration responded incompetently and ineffectively to Hurricane Katrina. Bush thus saw his popularity drop.
In fact, that’s a pretty good metaphor for the Obama and Bush administrations overall.