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Thoughts About the Early Voting

There was a time when we would count down to election day. In fact, a lot of media is doing just that. But this year, by the start of 'election day', perhaps more than thirty percent of the voters will have already voted. Recent changes in absentee and early voting laws have created an opportunity for voters to have a much more convenient chance to vote. As a matter of fact, I voted over a week ago myself, because Texas opened early voting back on October 20th. A lot of pundits and media have been talking about early voting, which makes sense, but there has also been a lot of opinion tossed about which turns out not to have firm foundation under it. For example, I have read and heard about a supposed historical tendency for republicans to have an advantage over democrats in early voting. That's true to a degree, because historically more seniors vote early and they have tended to be republicans. However, that trend was established with the restricted absentee votes, and since no-excuse absentee and early voting have begun, that trend evaporated. 34 states offer early voting this year, many for the first time, which is one reason why there is so little history for the practice as a national exercise. In 2000, roughly 14% of voters voted before the designated election day. In 2004, that portion rose to 22%, and this year election officials expect that portion to climb above 30%. Barack Obama has repeatedly urged his supporters to vote early and not wait for election day.

A lot of talk has focused on the results from early voting. That data is necessarily limited, by law as well as ethical rationale. It's been long noted, for example, that some folks like to vote for a winner, and if they are persuaded that a candidate has locked up the win, they will go along rather than feel that they backed a loser. As a result, election results - especially vote tallies - are not supposed to be released until after all the polls close in a state. Poll results are often used to hint at the results, which may or may not be cheating, depending on whom you ask and how that information is presented, and we're seeing a version of that in looking at the early voting results so far. Before we look at those results, I need to emphasize that there is no established standard to prove the meaning of a particular event in early voting. I had thought, myself, early on that it would be a good sign for McCain if republicans voted in numbers equal to democrats. It turns out that I had not thought that one through.

I read an interesting paper on the significance of early voting, by Kate Kenski writing about the Annenburg Election Survey for the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. For example, Kenski noted that early voting by black voters was low (2.8%) in 2000, but more than quadrupled that response in 2004. From that trend, it should not be surprising that black voters continue to increase participation in early voting, especially with Obama on the ticket. Another point of interest was that in 2000, Bush earned a much higher percentage of the vote in early voting, but in 2004 the percentages were much closer to election-day voters, possibly due to the extraordinary turnout in the overall election. 2008 will provide a lot of useful information about early voting demographics, but for now we are limited in what we can say from the existing record.

Dr. Michael McDonald at George Mason University has a website up for easy reference on early voting. It shows that already, more than sixteen million early votes have been cast. Party-specific references can be found for just nine of the thirty-four states offering early voting, so we should be careful about assuming the information is true for the whole nation, but so far it does indicate that democrats have been better-organized so far than republicans, from the following state results:

continued

West Virginia: 59.4% democrats, 31.5% republicans
North Carolina: 54.0% democrats, 28.6% republicans
New Mexico: 55.1% democrats, 32.3% republicans
Nevada: 53.7% democrats, 29.6% republicans
Maine: 44.5% democrats, 28.6% republicans
Louisiana: 58.4% democrats, 28.5% republicans
Iowa: 48.9% democrats, 28.5% republicans
Florida: 45.4% democrats, 39.0% republicans
Colorado: 38.6% democrats, 37.9% republicans

Except for Colorado, the states which are reporting results by party affiliation show a strong showing by democrats relative to republicans. One possible reason for this is the strong proportion of black voters. The following states have reported the following percentages of black early voters to all early voters so far:

North Carolina: 27.6%
Louisiana: 36.0%
Georgia: 35.2%

This news is likely to be taken, indeed has already been reported by some media, as evidence of a wave of Obama support. To some degree and reasoning this is true, since it is quite reasonable to expect that the heavy majority of democrats will vote for Obama, and therefore a large proportion of democrats means a lot of Obama votes. However, the reader should be reminded that each of these voters in the early count is a voter who will not be voting on election day; the high proportion of black voters now will, mathematically, require a lower proportion on election day, since no demographic can exceed the ceiling of its representative total. It benefits Obama insofar that a voter who has submitted their ballot represents the surest kind of voter turnout, but it should be remembered that 59 million votes was not enough for John Kerry to win in 2004, so the 16 to 17 million votes submitted so far can provide a head start for a candidate, but is far from all he will need.

Also worth considering, is the behavior of voters. Gallup has a nice article up on its site, and while it tilts a bit towards Obama, it notes that except for the West, most voters still plan to vote on Election Day, and it should be noted that in Kenski's paper, she observed that most early voters vote less than seven days before election day, meaning that we could see a wild finish to early voting, one that could significantly change what we are seeing now in demographic terms. Also, while it is the only state which released early voting behavior by age group, I found it interesting to see that in North Carolina, only 12.3% of the voters were under 30, with 20.7% coming from the 30-44 group, 41.7% from the 45-64 age group, and 25.3% from the 65 and older group.

In conclusion, you can expect the Obama supporters to use this early information to claim they are winning easily, but there's still several more days of early voting, and even if it's record-setting in scale, the numbers from November 4 will still be the ones which do the most to decide the election.

To see why McCain supporters could still take hope, let's play a little bit with the numbers we have available. I emphasize that these are not hard numbers nationally, but merely using the same extrapolation that Obama supporters would use for their own encouragement, but taken here to encourage McCain supporters. The nine states which are reporting party affiliation numbers are indicating an average of 48.1% of democrats among early voters, and 28.6% of republicans among early voters. The three states reporting black voter participation are reporting an average of 31.5% participation. Projected nationally, that would be 5,200,862 votes placed by black voters out of 16,514,867 total early votes. Since the polling data says that essentially all black voters are democrats this year, that means that there may have been 11,314,005 votes by non-black voters so far, of which 24.2% would be democrats and 41.9% are republicans. Further, if we assume that there will be roughly 130 million voters this year and that black voters represent about 11% of those voters, then we project that 14.3 million black voters will vote this year. With 5.2 million already having voted out of 16.3 million early votes so far, that would project the remaining black vote would be 9.1 million out of 113.7 million, or 8.0% of the remaining vote. Accordingly, the overall democrat percentage is going to drop as the vote progresses, as will the republican portion of the remaining non-black vote. As I have said before, the numbers may seem heavy in one direction now, but in the end the independents and late-deciders will make the difference.


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Comments (18)

Ok, so I'll just vote my ra... (Below threshold)
Mitchell:

Ok, so I'll just vote my race this year, to be consistent with what's been done, largely, so far.

Ugh. Blacks used to be Republican, although the youngsters would never believe it. Someone should be listening to Sowell.

What are your thoughts comb... (Below threshold)
pax:

What are your thoughts combining your analysis with this previous post on WizBang:
http://wizbangblog.com/content/2008/10/29/mccain-up-in-florida-early-voting-poll.php

Is there any credibility to this poll? Are there flaws in their sampling / weighting?

We have had early voting in... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

We have had early voting in TN for a number of years now. I never really thought much about it. I like it because it does make it more convenient. However, I have come to believe that it is a very bad idea. It gives those with ill intent plenty of time to commit organized, systematic voter fraud. Early voting makes it that much more difficult to protect the integrity of the system.

Where in Texas you live DJ?... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Where in Texas you live DJ? I am outside Ft Hood.


As far as early voting goes I believe that any state that has early voting should have the polls close on time no matter what (those in line still get to vote). The reason being those folks had plenty of time to get to the polls already.

Thanks for this insight. W... (Below threshold)
Therese:

Thanks for this insight. We also need to be aware that in addition to calling the early voting for Obama, the media will also try to call the election for Obama on election day even before the polling stops.

I read an interesting article by Karl Rove in the Wall St. Journal today which said that in 2000, CNN's Judy Woodruff called Florida a win for Al Gore before the polls closed at 8pm. Based on Rove's analysis, as many at 500,000 people didn't vote because of this call.

Here's a link to Karl Rove's article in today's Wall St. Journal:
http://online.wsj.com/article
/SB122533149619882883.html

I expect the media to do whatever it can to suppress the McCain vote including calling states too early so that we don't turn out. It's obvious that they are really trying hard to SUPPRESS THE MCCAIN VOTE.

No matter what the polls say (even if they say McCain is winning), we McCain supporters have to fervently get out and Vote! (And encourage all of our friends who are McCain supporters to get out and vote,too.)

ACORN is helping the Democrats with voter fraud, but I think that because of all the media attention that is being paid to it, they will not be able to cheat as much as they have in the past. What this translates into, I don't know, but because of it I believe that this is another reason why they need to suppress McCain/Palin voters turning out.

We can win this election, but we can only do so by actually getting out and voting.

Encouragement about early v... (Below threshold)
Therese:

Encouragement about early voting! Read this post on Hillbuzz which shows that some early voting Democrats in Florida are voting McCain/Palin:

http://hillbuzz.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/great-merciful-zeus-pumas-are-winning-florida-for-john-mccain/

...some early voting Dem... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

...some early voting Democrats in Florida are voting McCain/Palin.

It would be astonishing--nay, beyond the realm of believability--if none of them were. As for those who previously voted Republican, how many of them are supporting Obama?

Deep stuff there, Therese.

I don't vote early. I live... (Below threshold)

I don't vote early. I live in a Democrat-controlled area and only on election day itself are all the checks and balances in place to make sure the votes are counted properly.

I don't trust that my vote will make the count under Democrat hands, so I'm voting on election day to make sure it doesn't "disappear."

One man, one vote, one last... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

One man, one vote, one last time...

After this election? Who needs to bother with messy stuff like voter fraud and getting out to the polls? Obama knows what's best. Trust in Obama. Obama sees all, knows all, can guide the country through the turbulence of the future.

In other news, the chocolate ration is being increased from 30 grams per week to 25. Obama says we can ALL be slim like him!

Hyperbolist, Therese is wri... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Hyperbolist, Therese is writing about published reports that show McCain ahead in Florida. I have two thoughts on that:

1. It is a bit unclear whether McCain is alleged to be leading because of absentee voting overcoming Obama's early-voting lead, or if McCain is also alleged to be leading in actual early voting as well as the absentee vote.

2. The reports are not based on actual vote tallies (which won't be released until the polls close November 4), but on opinion polls asking if voters in Florida voted early, and whom they supported. As with all polls, I try not to confuse polls with votes. It sounds nice and of course I'd like it to be true, but a poll is a poll is a poll, regardless of whether it says my guy or the other guy is winning. I'd have to check the internal data before I could speak to its validity.

DJ, great column, but you a... (Below threshold)
Son Of The Godfather:

DJ, great column, but you are attempting to discuss facts with a plate of Jell-o.

Seriously, hyperbolist has contributed absolutely nothing (except faulted logic) to these discussions for the longest time now. I'm surprised his account is still valid.

I'm against censorship, except when it blocks unhinged stupidity.

I read on Red State that, a... (Below threshold)
bonzy:

I read on Red State that, although Dems lead early voting in Florida, McCain is leading among those who have voted.

Because of the same concern... (Below threshold)
Tammy:

Because of the same concern some of you have had about the high potential for fraud, my husband and I only vote the day of as well. We early voted one year and were told by those much wiser than us that we might as well have just flushed our ballots down the crapper because of a certain character who worked the early voting venue. Since then, we too have deided that there will be more safeguards in place (plus we know and trust the people who work our personal voting venue) to prevent someone dicking around with our ballots.

So, you are saying that ear... (Below threshold)
Chris:

So, you are saying that early voting results don't necessarily mean good news for dems, because they're using up all their votes now.

But, what if the number of democratic votes is MORE than the number of republican votes at the end of the voting period?

Wouldn't that, in fact, mean that the democrats would have MORE votes than the republicans and would win the state in question?

I eagerly await your analysis.

Well Chris, in 2004 roughly... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Well Chris, in 2004 roughly the same number of democrats and republicans voted, yet Bush won a clear majority. In 1984, more democrats than republicans voted, yet Reagan won in a landslide. The consequence to be considered, is the relative level of support each candidate earns from his party, in addition to support from independents. So this is also a salient consideration. My discussion here was to observe that the demographic ceiling on black voters limits their impact on the election as a whole, and there is reason to believe that as a whole, democrats will not outnumber republicans at the election sites to the degree assumed in the press and the polls. Consequently, even if democrats outnumber republicans right now in early voting, it may well not be significant to the outcome of the election as a whole.

I hardly think that early v... (Below threshold)
Michael:

I hardly think that early voting Dems in W.VA are voting for Obama in great numbers.

THERE ARE NO UNDECIDED VOTE... (Below threshold)
texasscott:

THERE ARE NO UNDECIDED VOTERS LEFT! I cannot believe that for one moment. They are voting for McCain because either A they have not fallen for the "pure emotion of the O. vote" or B have taken too much time analyzing him and not liking what they see. Time is Obama's enemy here.

I would like to see a discussion on "weighting" as well. It is my understanding that these so called swing states have huge increases in dem reg's BUT also have ACORN flooding with obvious large numbers of new registrations. This has got to affect the pollsters weighting I would think. It just seems to convenient for swing states.

I don't believe there are n... (Below threshold)
Lummox JR:

I don't believe there are no undecided voters left, though I also don't believe all undecided voters are actually certain to vote at all--some people just never make up their mind. I do buy into the emotional-vs.-intellectual argument, and that undecideds are mostly the latter. I think Obama's major and long-running lack of substance will hurt him with them; no one, after all, is unclear on where McCain stands. Last night Obama got on TV and told the nation it had lots and lots of problems that new spending would solve, yet he didn't mention where all the money for that would come from. The McCain/Palin ticket on the other hand has an established record as reformers, in a year when nearly 60% of the voting public would gladly replace the entire Congress because the corruption problems that haunted the Republican majority in '06 have only gotten worse under Pelosi and Reid.

All said though, what sways one intellect might not sway another; for instance a given voter might be far more troubled with McCain's wobbling on the 1st Amendment than Obama's on the 2nd. One thing I'm sure past polls don't tell us reliably is how many people started out undecided and then ended up breaking for one side or the other, and why. Do undecideds ultimately tend to break left or right, or part right down the middle? I'm not sure a poll can capture that information in a general case, though it does seem this year that the independents favor McCain.

On second thought though there is another class of undecideds this year: PUMAs. Will they ultimately vote more for Obama or McCain? Are they voting emotionally or intellectually, or perhaps even both? If HillBuzz's info is to be taken at face value, they're still very angry.




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