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Signs about mandatory evacuations in Florida before Hurricane Irma struck in 2017. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A new study finds that partisan conservative media led to "hurricane skepticism" among Trump voters before Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September 2017, discouraging evacuations.

Why it matters: As the divided response to the coronavirus pandemic underscores, how we view the world politically is increasingly determining how we view the threat of natural catastrophes. With extreme weather on the rise, that's a dangerous recipe.

What's happening: In a study published Friday in Science Advances, researchers from UCLA examined evacuation patterns for the hurricane using GPS phone location data from each affected voting precinct, which allowed them to compare the behaviors of likely Clinton and Trump voters living as closely as 500 ft. apart.

  • They found Florida residents who voted for Donald Trump were between 10% and 11% less likely than residents who voted for Hillary Clinton to obey evacuation orders.
  • That partisan gap was not present during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 or Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Context: The researchers theorize the partisan gap seen in Irma was due at least in part to conservative media pushing hurricane skepticism before the storm hit, casting doubt on official predictions of its severity and the need to evacuate.

  • They cite a broadcast from Rush Limbaugh a few days before the storm's arrival, where the conservative radio host blamed government officials and the media for overhyping the hurricane to "advance this climate change agenda."
  • While such "hurricane trutherism" existed in pockets before Irma, the researchers noted an unprecedented spike in Google searches for skeptic content in the days leading up to Irma.
  • Irma ultimately caused 123 deaths in Florida, and it was the most expensive storm in the state's history.

Of note: There is evidence that at least some people in Oregon are resisting evacuations from the state's wildfires in part because of baseless rumors that left-wing activists are setting the fires so they can loot abandoned houses.

The bottom line: It's frightening to realize a growing number of Americans trust partisan media over authoritative sources — even in matters of life and death.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 10, 2020 - Science

Theta becomes 29th named storm in record hurricane season

A satellite image of Subtropical Storm Theta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/Twitter

Subtropical Storm Theta formed in the Northeast Atlantic Monday night, becoming the 29th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center confirmed.

Why it matters: The formation of Theta, which was some 995 miles southwest of the Azores overnight, breaks the record for the most named storms in a season — set in 2005. The World Meteorological Organization sets 21 alphabetical names for every season (excluding Q,U, X, Y and Z). This is the second time ever it's used all and had to turn to the Greek alphabet.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context on the hurricane season.

Biden to sign 15 executive actions on Day One

President-elect Joe Biden. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to sign 15 executive actions upon taking office Wednesday, immediately reversing key Trump administration policies.

Why it matters: The 15 actions — aimed at issues like climate change and immigration — mark more drastic immediate steps compared with the two day-one actions from Biden's four predecessors combined, according to incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Off the Rails

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Elijah Nouvelage, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence. Trump believes the vice president can solve all his problems by simply refusing to certify the Electoral College results. It's a simple test of loyalty: Trump or the U.S. Constitution.

"The end is coming, Donald."

The male voice in the TV ad boomed through the White House residence during "Fox & Friends" commercial breaks. Over and over and over. "The end is coming, Donald. ... On Jan. 6, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin."

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