The Politics of Disaster Relief

Jaycee Tolentino


Do political considerations influence federal assistance in emergencies? In the United States, the president decides which requests for federal disaster relief are granted or denied. In my honours thesis, I studied whether a humanitarian institution, natural disaster relief, was vulnerable to politicization.

I constructed a rich dataset of major weather events and federal disaster declarations in U.S. congressional districts between 1966 and 2016 and matched it to political data. I found that presidents use disaster relief to attempt to flip seats in competitive congressional districts.