Nearly 40 million Americans cast their 2016 presidential election ballots by Friday, and those early voting results bring good news for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to a new study released Saturday by the research firm TargetSmart.
For Republican Donald Trump, the early votes leave him with a steep mountain to climb, in order to win the presidency.
The TargetSmart study found that 39,697,817 voters had already turned in their ballots as of November 4. Considering that 126 million Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election, down from 131 million in 2008 with another drop-off expected for 2016, that early voting figure may represent more than one-third of all votes to be cast in the Trump vs. Clinton election.
If so, Trump has his work cut out for him with the remaining two-thirds who have not yet voted. According to the TargetSmart study, which employs a statistical model to estimate how many early voters support each candidate, Clinton already holds a lead of nearly nine percentage points — 8.9 points, to be exact — among votes that have already been cast.
The study found found that 47.5 percent of early voters were “likely” to have voted for Clinton, while only 38.6 percent “likely” voted for Trump.
The one ray of hope for Trump comes in the percentage of voters “likely” to be “swing” voters — that is, voters whose preference is impossible to determine because they fit neither the profile of a likely Clinton voter not a Trump voter, or they may have voted for an alternative candidate.
The TargetSmart Study found 13.9 percent of early voters falling into the “likely swing” category.
But Trump would require votes from 64 percent of those voters simply to even out the early voting results with Clinton.
In fact, if the TargetSmart model has correctly determined the percentage of early voters who voted for each candidate — and assuming that the “swing” voter ballots do not change those percentages significantly — Trump would need to win roughly 55 percent of all remaining voters to overtake his Democratic foe.
That may prove difficult due to a number of factors.
First, women appear to be turning out to vote at a significantly higher pace than men. Among early voters, just short of 56 percent were women. But according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from November 3, only 36 percent of women voters support Trump.
If women continue to turn out at the high rate indicated by the early voting results, Trump will need to find a well of support among women voters that simply has not existed for him so far.
Another bad sign for Trump in the TargetSmart study comes in the group’s findings regarding turnout among “low propensity” voters, that is, groups who tend to vote in low percentages and with low frequency. Trump’s own strategy has been built around “enfranchising conventionally low propensity voters,” according to a Trump campaign internal memo from early this year.
But the TargetSmart findings show “low propensity voter’s share of early vote is slowly increasing.” That means Trump is losing those voters — voters he’s been counting on to show up for him — to Clinton’s lead in the early voting.