North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan
Are Kay Hagan, Charlie Crist or Joni Ernst favored based on early voting statistics? We just can never draw such conclusions from early voting reports alone. We just don't know whether voters who are turning out would have voted anyway or whether parties are modifying their turnout operations to encourage their supporters to shift their mode of voting. Early voting statistics may even be misleading if all we do with them is look at which party accounts for more early ballots, as there may be a whole host of historical patterns, mitigating factors, and legal changes that should affect how we read these numbers.
But once we're armed with that additional context—which these early voting reports aim to provide—these statistics do provide valuable clues as to which parties are struggling to turn out their voters, and which parties are seeing signs that their mobilization efforts are working.
Think about it this way: Getting Democratic voters to turn out in strong numbers during early voting will not save North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan if she cannot pull the same feat on Election Day, or if it comes at an expense of a drop of voters who vote later. But strong early voting is an absolutely essential piece of the machinery that Hagan needs to pull off a win. If we were seeing weaker turnout from registered Democrats it would have us question her chances, but instead Hagan is going into the final week of the election seeing what she needs to see.
Or take the past two cycles: Most polls had Barack Obama losing Florida in 2012 and Harry Reid losing Nevada in 2010. Unusually impressive early voting by registered Democrats in both states made it plausible to think that the polls' likely voter screens may be too tight and that these two candidates' ground games may carry them across the finish lines.
• North Carolina: Democrats have been concerned about their strength ever since Republicans cut the early voting period. But North Carolina has already caught up to the 2010 totals! As of Tuesday morning, as many voters had cast a ballot in-person over five days of early voting as had over twelve days of early voting in 2010.
That robust turnout has been driven by registered Democrats. They account for 50 percent of in-person early votes, compared to 30 percent for Republicans. Taking mail ballots into account, the Democrats' advantage is 48.4 percent to 31.3.
Granted, Democrats have always had a superior early voting operation in this state. But these numbers are strong even compared to past years: Michael Blitzer calculates that Democrats have cast 110 percent as many ballots as they had on the equivalent day in 2010, while Republicans have cast 81 percent as many. And not only is Democrats' current lead (48-31) greater than it was in 2010 (46-37), but for now it is also greater than in the presidential year of 2012, when it stood at 47.6 percent to 31.5 percent. The electorate is also far less white than in 2010, though more so than in 2012: It was 77 percent white in 2010, 68 percent in 2012, 72 percent white as of this point in 2014.
But perhaps it is this chart that contains the most promising sign for Democrats: 21 percent of early voting Democrats did not vote in 2010, versus 17 percent of Republicans. That may seem like a small difference, but it is at least a sign that this year's stronger Democratic turnout cannot entirely be explained by a shift in usual voters' preferred mode of voting.
Races around the country are coming down to the wire. Please chip in $3 to help Democrats win.
Head over the fold for a look at early voting in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Nevada.
Defeat Mitch McConnell in just two hours. Sign up to make GOTV calls to Democrats.