In exactly two weeks, voters across the country will decide who they want to be the next president of the United States: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But millions have already made that decision thanks to early voting, which allows them to cast a ballot prior to Election Day. For those following the election closely and with a lot of anxiety about the result, there’s good news: states release their early voting numbers, and taking a close look at them can often give us an idea of where the race is headed.
In North Carolina, early voting began on Thursday, October 20 and it concludes on Saturday, November 5th. If you’re a North Carolinian interested in voting now, head over to this webpage, select your county, and you will be given information about where you need to go to vote and about what the polling hours are. Those hours vary depending on the county, but most locations are open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or so.
Before we examine the early voting numbers this year, let’s take a look back at 2012 and see how the early voting results compared to the actual outcome. Four years ago, Democrats seemed to hold a substantial lead in North Carolina based on early voting, with the numbers on November 4th showing Barack Obama having a clear advantage over Mitt Romney. But this was an example where the early numbers ended up being misleading, as Mitt Romney went on to win North Carolina by two percentage points.
This is to say that while these early voting results can often be quite telling, and while many times they predict the winner of a state, they should not be treated as gospel.
This is another year where Democrats have the advantage in the early voting thus far. According to the North Carolina board of elections, as of October 26th, approximately 812,000 votes have been cast early, and that number translates to about 12 percent of the state’s registered voters. Of those votes, 47 percent have been cast by Democrats, 28 percent have been cast by Republicans, while 24 percent come from those without a registered party and less than 1 percent come from Libertarians.
For comparison, by the conclusion of 2012’s early voting, 48 percent of the votes cast were by Democrats, while 32 percent were by Republicans, according to Politico. As the race stands today, then, turnout among Democrats has declined only slightly compared to 2012, while turnout among Republicans is down more significantly. To be precise, 14 percent of registered North Carolina Democrats have already voted compared to 11 percent of Republicans.
Can we assume that just about all of those Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton and all of the Republicans voted for Donald Trump? For the most part we probably can, although polls show that there are still some who plan to vote outside of their party. In a recent New York Times survey of North Carolina voters, seven percent of Republicans said they were voting for Hillary Clinton, but seven percent of Democrats also said they were voting for Donald Trump. Republicans were less sure of their choice in this poll than Democrats, with five percent of Republicans saying they didn’t know for whom they’d vote and with only two percent of Democrats saying the same thing.
What about those 24 percent of voters without a registered party? Where are they leaning? Well, according to that same New York Times survey, 43 percent of voters who are Independents or who don’t identify with a major party said they planned to vote for Donald Trump, while 33 percent said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton and 14 percent said they’d vote for Gary Johnson. Another recent poll from Remington showed the same result, with 44 percent of those without a registered party supporting Trump and 42 percent of them supporting Hillary Clinton.