Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

David Andrews

Reader 2

Vanessa Tyson

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Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

Vera A. Samuels


This papers analyzes the impacts that natural disasters have on city council composition. Concentrating on Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the demographics of New Orleans’ city council, I ask whether major weather events cause electorates to vote for candidates from different racial groups and/or for candidates with different levels of political experience. I hypothesize that Hurricane Katrina led New Orleanians to (1) elect more white candidates and (2) elect fewer experienced politicians to their city council. In order to establish external validity, I replicate these hypotheses for Brooklyn, New York, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. To establish internal validity, I hypothesize that Cleveland residents have not changed their electoral preferences in regards to (1) race or (2) political experience in any significant way in the past two decades. Cleveland, Ohio has not experienced a major natural disaster in several decades and thus acts as my control case. Drawing data from various newspapers, public archives, and government documents, I find race, incumbency states, number of prior years in elected office, and previous jobs of all city council members in New Orleans, Brooklyn, Cleveland. After analyzing these numbers, I find that hypothesis 1 was weakly supported in New Orleans and hypothesis 2 was supported. I determine that Hurricane Katrina slightly raised the number of white city council members and lowered the number of black members. I find that the most significant change that the hurricane wrought was one that I had not anticipated—Hurricane Katrina led New Orleanians to elect the first ever Asian and Latinx candidates to the council. Furthermore, I find that after the storm, New Orleanians elected less experienced politicians to the council, many of whom were deeply involved in their communities. Additionally, I find that neither of my hypotheses are generalizable to Brooklyn, meaning they do not possess external validity. However, since my hypotheses regarding Cleveland are supported, my hypotheses possess internal validity. Given the inevitability of natural disasters and politicians’ and citizens’ need to predict how their lives will be impacted by such destructive weather events, my results are an important contribution to political analysis of natural disasters.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.