Early voting has grown increasingly popular in the United States: Four years ago, 36 percent of all ballots were cast early, and that proportion is likely to grow this time around. While you always need to be careful when trying to read the early voting tea leaves, they still offer an interesting set of data that’s worth analyzing as we approach Election Day. With that in mind, we’ll be providing an update on the progress of early voting around the country every weekday during the last two weeks of the 2016 election cycle.
Monday marked the opening of early voting in Florida, the king of swing states, and Texas, which, remarkably, is threatening to become a battleground state. Meanwhile, early voting continued onward in other key states from coast to coast, and we have reports from Nevada, North Carolina, Utah, and Virgina. On balance, the news continues look better than expected for Democrats.
The Sunshine State began in-person early voting on Monday, but Team Clinton was already crowing about a huge uptick in Latino votes cast via mail-in absentee ballots, claiming an increase of 99 percent over the same point in time in 2012. The overall absentee tally also represented a net gain for the Democrats, as the GOP’s traditionally sizable edge in vote-by-mail was all but erased this year, leaving Republicans with just a 1.7 percent edge over Democrats in ballots returned. In 2012, by contrast, Republicans had a 5.3 percent lead.
The first day of early voting brought reports of steady and smooth turnout in South Florida, a key corner of the state for Clinton. The reports flowing in on Monday evening (culled from the indispensable Twitter feed of Democratic operative Steve Schale) seemed, on balance, quite positive for Team Blue:
- Miami-Dade County (which voted 62-38 for Obama overall in 2012) had 10,000 more early voters today than on day one in 2012. Given that this is a key county for Clinton’s hopes, this is enormous.
- Orange County (home of Orlando, 59-40 Obama in 2012) saw a yawning gap (53-27) between Democratic early voters and Republican early voters.
- Hillsborough County (Tampa, 53-46 Obama in 2012) had a 49-34 Democratic edge among day one early voters, well ahead of the eight-point Democratic edge in registration.
- Duval County (Jacksonville, 51-47 Romney in 2012) saw a 49-38 Democratic edge on day one. Despite being an urban county, Dems only have a 41-38 registration edge.
And while Schale did not cite statistics out of deep blue Broward County (67-32 Obama in 2012), he described early vote turnout in Broward with one word: YUGE. When all was said and done on the first day of early voting in Florida, the Democrats had almost completely offset that 1.7 percent absentee voting edge the GOP had built up prior to Monday. That spread (which, as noted above, was already very small by historical standards) was down to 0.43 percent by the end of the first day of early voting.
Let’s be honest: Practically no one outside of the most dedicated Lone Star Democrats thought Texas would be a swing state in 2016. The less-than-stellar outcome of the 2014 cycle, coupled with polling that was largely pessimistic, left most folks feeling that a purple Texas was still a project for future cycles.
Then Donald Trump happened.
Polls began to make a competitive Texas seem plausible. And day one of early voting did nothing to dissuade the enthusiasm of Texas Democrats.
Those of us glued to Twitter started hearing reams of (admittedly far from evidentiary) anecdotal evidence that something was happening in Texas. But as the actual stats began to roll in, those anecdotal reports started to seem far more believable. Harris County (which Barack Obama narrowly carried) saw a record first day of early voting, with over 67,000 voters reporting to cast their ballots. This represented a 43 percent increase over the previous record, set in 2012. One of the few legitimately blue counties in the state, Dallas County (57-42 Obama in 2012), also saw a record turnout on day one, with over 58,000 voters turning out. That was close to double the 2012 turnout, which topped out at just over 32,000 voters.
According to research from our own Daniel Donner, in other key Democratic counties in the state, the news was just as good. For example, Travis County (Austin) saw its combined in-person early vote/vote-by-mail numbers jump from just shy of 21,000 voters in 2012 to almost 44,000 votes today. In the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley, Cameron County (65 percent Obama) saw a 63 percent jump in early voting on day one, while Hidalgo County (70 percent Obama) saw a 55 percent jump in early voting at the same time that vote-by-mail more than doubled from 2012. You can see these visualized in the chart below:
But the news is not all stellar, according to Donner. Reliably red counties also saw turnout spikes: most notably deep-red Collin County (66-33 Romney), which saw an 83 percent spike in early voting.
The early vote numbers from the Silver State are being dutifully crunched by—who else?—well-known political reporter Jon Ralston.
In short, the first three days of early voting in the Silver State produced a blue rout. Democrats (even with the traditionally more conservative vote-by-mail folded in) enjoyed a 47-34 edge over the GOP, a margin which is more than double the 6-point statewide registration advantage for Democrats. What’s more, the edge was substantial in the state’s two key House districts which are in play this election (NV-03 and NV-04), as well as in key legislative districts that could flip both chambers of the Nevada state legislature to the Democrats.
Even better news: Ralston tweeted late Monday that Day 3 of early voting in Washoe County split 45-37 Democratic; this is a swing county where the GOP actually enjoys a narrow registration edge. He also noted that uber-Democratic Clark County (home of Las Vegas) had turnout exceeding 2012 levels for the third day in a row.
The Tarheel State, meanwhile, is a bit of a mixed bag. Overall early vote numbers were down fractionally from 2012 for both parties. But that might be owed to the fact that Republicans deliberately reduced the number of early voting locations in a couple of large counties (Guilford and Mecklenburg), in an effort to reduce the African-American vote.
But what’s notable, in digging into the early voting numbers accumulated thus far, is that Democrats seem to be holding up quite well. We have two pieces of evidence for this. One piece of evidence comes from the conservative Civitas Institute, in the form of their “vote tracker.” Looking at the numbers through Sunday, the two Congressional districts leading in ballots cast are the 1st and 4th districts. These are two of the three overwhelmingly (or, more appropriately, absurdly) Democratic districts created by the oft-cited gerrymander of the state.
The second piece of evidence is from the new poll from PPP, which was released Monday. In that survey (which had Democrats leading narrowly for both president and governor, while trailing narrowly in the race for the U.S. Senate), Hillary Clinton held a 63-37 lead among those who had already voted. Why is this notable? Because it's a substantial gain when compared to a PPP poll from a similar period in 2012, when Barack Obama enjoyed a more modest 57-42 advantage among early voters.
Decent early voting news for Democrats even extended to Utah, where Democrats were turning out in numbers far greater than their registration might suggest in populous Salt Lake County. Of course, some are eyeing Utah as a potential shocker, given the presence of home-state independent candidate Evan McMullin.
Finally, in Virginia, early voting is limited to those who have a reason for not being able to vote on Election Day (as opposed to other states that have “no-excuse” early voting). So, unlike other states, the number of early votes banked in Virginia is relatively modest (it was about 12 percent of the total vote in 2012). Nevertheless, more than 181,000 early votes have in fact been cast, according to VPAP. Notable for Democrats: A large percentage of those votes have come from blue counties in Northern Virginia. But it’s also possible that this could have less to do with a blue surge and more to do with NoVa voters having a greater variety of reasons as to why they are unable to head to the polls on Election Day.