Welcome to the Daily Kos Elections early voting roundup, which appears every weekday until Election Day. Click here to find out if and when early voting is available in your state.
During election cycles, one term that gets bandied about ad nauseam by the press and pundits is the concept of the “enthusiasm gap.” More often than not, it’s used as a pejorative towards Democrats. This is not owed to any media conspiracy; rather it’s due to the natural tendency of the Democratic coalition to be comprised of voting blocs that are less consistent in their voting patterns (see: the past two midterm elections).
A corollary of the “enthusiasm gap” has popped up in the 2016 cycle: the “hidden Trump voter.” The theory goes something like this: Donald Trump’s … ahem … unique campaign has inspired a group of voters (typically white men—conservative, working class, with no college education) that perhaps would not show up in polling, because they tend not to vote, and therefore pollsters are undersampling them. Thus, even if polling shows Trump to be trailing Hillary Clinton, he may be closer than it appears because of this undervalued constituency.
While we don’t yet have a ton of data from of early voting, we are far enough into the game to say with some degree of confidence that if Trump has inspired casual voters of a conservative bent to get out to vote for the first time, it isn’t showing up in the hard numbers.
To wit: Let’s look at this helpful infographic put together by our own Daniel Donner. What’s visualized here is a different way of looking at the early vote. Donner has graphed the early vote (including both absentee ballots cast by mail and votes cast in-person at early voting locations) according to the percentage of Democrats and Republicans that have already returned ballots. Now, of course, in most states, given that the in-person early voting process has just started, these percentages are rather small. But it is accelerating quickly. And, already, we can see some trends.
Only two states in the dozen listed have seen a higher percentage of Republicans return their ballots than Democrats. But, as it happens, both of them have huge caveats. In California, in-person early voting is less of a phenomenon than elsewhere (there are, for example, a grand total of six polling stations for the entirety of Los Angeles County), and vote-by-mail tends toward the conservative wing of the electorate in the Golden State. Meanwhile, in Florida, early voting just began on Monday, so vote-by-mail tallies—which favored Republicans this year, albeit by a much narrower margin than four years ago—are almost double of the volume of early votes thus far.
Everywhere else, however, Democrats are returning ballots at a quicker clip than Republicans. On the surface, this would seem to belie the existence of the “hidden Trump voter,” because certainly we are not yet seeing a Republican wave heading to the polls in key states.
Now, before Democrats get too excited, there are a few notes of caution:
- Some of these places where Democrats are over-performing in the early vote are actually slightly underwhelming, given past trends. The clearest example of that is in Iowa, where Democrats have a substantial lead in ballots returned. But, as the local blog Bleeding Heartland noted, Democrats are actually considerably behind their 2012 numbers at a comparable point in time. Democrats have a 41,000 ballot lead in returned ballots over the GOP of the 300,000-plus votes cast thus far. But in 2012, that gap was 56,000 ballots by this point.
- Partisan identification, as we well know, does not necessarily correspond with partisan performance. One school of thought holds that Trump might overperform with nominal Democrats whose demographics line up with the Trumpian fan base. So, in that case, a lot of returned Democratic ballots might not necessarily mean a lot of returned Hillary Clinton ballots. There is a counter to this theory, of course, which is that the most public opinion polls have not shown Hillary Clinton seriously underperforming with Democratic voters.
- We are still 12 days out, and each state has its own eccentricities as it relates to the way their in-person and vote-by-mail tallies develop. For example, in Florida, Democrats tend to surge on weekends (especially when the predominantly African-American churches launch their “souls to the polls” campaigns after Sunday services). In North Carolina, some of the urban counties had limited options for early voting in the first few days. Those counties will have more centers open closer to Election Day. Therefore, Democratic performance in North Carolina (already decent) might actually improve among early voters as we get closer to Election Day. But the eccentricities can also go the other way. In Nevada, in the past few cycles, there tended to be a huge Democratic push at the start of early voting, which then leveled off a little as time went along.
However, it’s hard to look at the data that has been accumulated to this point, and credibly argue that there is a vast reservoir of new and loyal Trump voters that the polls have missed, but who will nevertheless be there for the Republican nominee when it comes time to cast their ballots.
Wednesday was arguably the best day for the GOP thus far in early voting, but no one should mistake that for a “good day” for the GOP. The percentage margin of ballots cast between the Democrats and Republicans did narrow after Wednesday, with Republicans now trailing the Democrats by a 45-36 spread. That is a slight improvement over Tuesday, when the margin was eleven points. But it is still a clear underperformance based on voter registration, which favors Democrats by six points. What’s more: Democrats managed to add to their raw vote lead, which now stands at over 26,500 votes. Nevada’s own Jon Ralston still declares that it is “still very much like 2012.” That, you’ll recall, was a rather successful year for Barack Obama in the Silver State.
As was largely the case on Tuesday, Wednesday was another day without either party making much in the way of gains in Florida. The Democrats won the day among in-person early votes by a small edge, but gave back a little more among returned vote-by-mail ballots. But this is really a case of small shifts. With nearly 2.5 million ballots already cast in this election, the net Republican lead shifted from 5,700 votes to a little bit over 11,000 votes.
We haven’t talked much about the Land of Enchantment, but there was a time when some observers wondered if a spike in votes for Libertarian candidate (and former New Mexico Governor) Gary Johnson might make this state more competitive than past election cycles would probably indicate. If the nearly 70,000 early votes cast as of Wednesday morning are an indicator, that seems quite unlikely. Democrats are well ahead of Republicans in the early vote in New Mexico, with 58 percent of the ballots returned thus far compared to just 30 percent for Republicans. That is considerably wider than the registration edge in the state, which is 47-31 Democratic.