Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Update your browser
Defending the Electoral College and the Constitution since 2009

what are you looking for?


Does presidential politics influence disaster declarations?
Sean Parnell • Jan 14, 2022

Key Points

  • The states with the most major disaster declarations over the past 20 years have generally been uncompetitive, led by Oklahoma and also including California, New York, and Texas.
  • Several of the most competitive states in presidential elections over the past 20 years, including Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, had fewer major disaster declarations than average.
  • According to the Congressional Research Service, the evidence suggesting presidential politics influence disaster declarations is “slight and statistically insignificant.”

One claim frequently made by advocates and lobbyists for the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) is that “battleground” states are more likely to receive presidential disaster declarations than other states. According to this charge, the Electoral College gives the president a strong incentive to favor those states when making disaster declarations, and adopting NPV would remove this distortion from the process.

The evidence shows there is little if any truth in this claim.

A review of disaster declarations from 2001 until 2020, which covers the five most recent presidential election cycles, finds that the average number of declarations per state was approximately 22. The state with the most disaster declarations was Oklahoma, with 46, followed by Mississippi (37), California (35), Iowa (35), Kansas (35), New York (35), Nebraska (34), Arkansas (33), Missouri (33), Alabama (32), South Dakota (32), West Virginia (32), Florida (31), Tennessee (31), and Texas (30).

The states that were the most competitive during this time tended to be below average in the number of declarations. Ohio had 20, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin each had 19, Michigan and Colorado both had nine, and Nevada only had eight.

A 2017 study by the Congressional Research Office, “Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2016: Trends, Analyses, and Implications for Congress,” looked at the claim that disaster declarations had been distorted by presidential politics. It determined the evidence purporting to show distortions in the presidential disaster declaration process were “slight and statistically insignificant.”

Contrary to the claims of NPV advocates and lobbyists, the states most likely to receive disaster declarations are in states generally considered to be uncompetitive in presidential elections, while the most competitive states often had fewer declarations than average.