As Election Day arrives, polls have tightened across a series of battleground states, with many now virtual ties. Early voting patterns can provide some clues about the final results, however.
Early voting patterns, now complete, indicated positives for both sides when all was said and done. More than 46 million Americans cast early votes, an increase over 2012. This surge in early voting arguably is helpful to Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump improved in the polls in the last week or so, recovering from mid-October drops in the midst of sexual assault allegations he denies. But millions of Americans had already voted by then.
Republicans fared well in early voting patterns seen in Florida and North Carolina; Democrats are doing well in Nevada and Colorado. Hispanic turnout is surging in some key battleground states, including Arizona, helping Clinton stay competitive. In other battleground states, though, African-American turnout is down, concerning Democrats.
See below for a RealClearPolitics electoral college map with the battlegrounds shaded gray. Those are the states where people are most closely studying early voting patterns.
Republicans say they are doing better than Mitt Romney’s 2012 early voting numbers “when combining ballot requests, return rates and early in-person voting” in Florida, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina, said The Los Angeles Times. Other states, though, like Nevada, have early voting trends that are ominous for Trump.
A mixed bag in the battleground states likely helps Clinton, who leads in more of those states’ polls going into the November 8 general election and who can afford to lose more states than Trump, who has to basically run the table in deadlocked states and possibly upset Clinton in a state she was expected to win (like Pennsylvania or Colorado). Florida is pretty much a must-win state for both candidates, although there are ways each can win without it (more for Clinton).
There are limitations as to how much early voting can tell us. No states break down early votes by candidate. However, some states do break down early voting by party affiliation (others don’t). This, too, has limitations. It can’t tell us how unaffiliated voters broke or the degree of cross-over voting, or voting for third party candidates, and this has been a non-traditional race. However, it can tell us something, especially when juxtaposed against 2012 early voting patterns or geography (Democrats usually lead in early voting, so it’s the comparison to 2012 that matters most). Nearly 40 million Americans had cast early votes as of November 6. One study found Clinton leading 9 percent in overall early voting, but, again, it’s state-by-state battleground comparatives to 2012 that matter most.
Not all states allow full early voting. Robust early voting helps Clinton because of Trump’s mid-October polling troubles. He aggressively campaigned in some states without robust early voting, such as Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, in the final days of the campaign. Those states only allow early voting for limited reasons.
Here’s what you need to know about early voting results as of November 8 in some of the most important battleground states:
More than 6 million Floridians early voted, but, although Democrats had a slight edge in aggregate numbers, they are under their 2012 pace, which is good news for Trump in this deadlocked state.
Statistics for November 7 out of Florida show, according to the Secretary of State:
Vote by mail:
No party affiliation 457,756
Voted early (in person)
Total ballots cast early in Florida by mail and in person: 6,424,595 (that’s almost half of all voters, and it’s an increase over past elections.)
Republicans: 2,472,431 (38.5%)
Democrats: 2,560,443 (39.9%)
Democrats cast slightly more early votes overall. However, it’s unclear how unaffiliated voters will break (but polls have indicated they are breaking more for Trump in Florida).
It’s the comparison to past patterns that matters, though. In 2008, according to CNN, Democrats also led Republicans in early voting. Black share of the electorate has dropped since then, although Latino turnout is up, said CNN.
Politico said Democrats led early voting returns in 2012 with an advantage of 3%: 43% to 40%. In 2012, Barack Obama won Florida by the slimmest of margins – 0.9%. Thus, a drop off in the Democratic advantage in early voting bodes well for the GOP.
The New York Times says that Hispanic turnout surged in Florida in early voting by 3 percent, making up 15% of the early vote in 2016 and 12% of the electorate in 2012.
According to The Huffington Post, overall, “Slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans have voted in Florida thus far, but Democrats’ advantage is lower than it was at this point in 2012 ― and historically, more Republicans vote on Election Day in Florida.” However, Florida’s early voting tallies showed surges in Democratic strongholds, the site said. Furthermore, it depends on how independents broke, and The Huffington Post said a bigger portion of Florida independents is now non-white.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State, here are the percentage breakdowns for early voting in Nevada as of November 7:
Trump has taken the lead in recent polls out of this battleground state.
The Democrats had an edge in 2012 early voting, too. They led 44 percent with Republicans at 37 percent. That means that Democrats this year have an edge in early voting of +5.19%. In 2012, they had an edge of +7, so Democrats don’t have as much of an early voting lead in Nevada now as they did in the last presidential election.
KTVN-TV reported that “the number of ballots cast before Election Tuesday was up in 2016 compared to 2012, but there are also more than 200,000 active voters now compared to then.” The television station said Democrats had a higher turnout in 2012, and pointed out there is no way to know what percentage of people will cross over and vote for a candidate from a different party.
However, Obama won Nevada in 2012 52.3% to 45.7%. To flip a margin that larger, some observers think Republicans would need to be posting a higher advantage.
Nevada reporter Jon Ralston has been analyzing early voting patterns. He’s found such good news for Clinton as to declare the race over because of voting patterns in key Democratic counties, including a surge in Hispanic voters. This is what he wrote on November 5, “Let me answer the question both sides are asking: Could Trump still win Nevada? Well…yes, BUT: Let me remind you of the math: Trump would need to be holding 90 percent of the GOP base and Clinton would have to be losing 15-20 percent of hers and he would have to be winning indies for him to be competitive. Let me be clear: None of those things are likely.”
On November 7, Ralston posted an update, in which he wrote: “I could be wrong about Donald Trump losing Nevada only if voters behaved very differently during early voting than they usually do. That is, unlike 2008 and 2012, many of those Democrats were voting for Trump and Hillary Clinton is losing by a substantial margin among indies.” Of course, it’s been a non-traditional election.
Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Michigan
Early voting is not much of a factor in these key states. However, that helps Trump, arguably, because he dropped in a lot of states in mid-October during the sexual assault allegations, but has gradually recovered, especially in the past week or so.
All eyes are on Pennsylvania because it would be a huge pick up for Trump and polls have tightened to the margin of error (with Clinton still maintaining a slight lead.) However, early voting is very limited in Pennsylvania. Thus, only 5% of the state early voted in 2012. Early voting is not much of a factor in Pennsylvania in contrast to a state like Nevada, where 69% or so of the state early votes.
The same is true of Michigan and New Hampshire. They do not allow early voting for all. Clinton leads in Michigan and Trump in New Hampshire, although the Trump lead is in the margin of error and the race has tightened in both states. In Michigan, said The Detroit Free Press, there has been a dramatic drop off in support for Clinton, although she is still ahead but on the edge of the margin or error now.
The Denver Post has a ballot tracker that shows the following early voting tallies for November 6. The Post said the election was the first all-mail early voting in the state. That’s a big caveat because this election was a first for a new system, making a 2012 comparative faulty.
The Huffington Post, after analyzing 2014 midterm election data, argues that “Republicans need at least a 7 point registration advantage to be competitive” in early voting – something they did not come close to achieving.
As of November 6, the last available:
Republicans 652,380 (35.2%)
Democrats 645,020 (34.8%)
This is good news for Democrats because they’ve narrowed the gap with Republicans in a state that went for Barack Obama last time.
The polling average for Colorado is in the margin for error, but Clinton still leads. In 2012, Democrats had 35 percent of early votes and Republicans had 37 percent.
Thus, in 2012, Republicans had a 2 percentage point early voting edge. This year, Republicans have an edge of 0.4%. And remember Obama won Colorado 51.2% to 46.5% in 2012. It’s unclear how unaffiliated voters would break, of course. That could be a big wildcard. But so far early voting tallies don’t provide any indication that Trump is outperforming Mitt Romney’s numbers in Colorado.
In 2012, Democrats had 48 percent of early votes and Republicans had 32 percent. That was a +16 point edge. Showing the limitations on using early voting as a predictor of election outcomes, Romney won the state 50.39% to 48.35%.
This year, North Carolina is reporting that 3,183,492 people have already voted as of November 8. Here’s the partisan breakdown:
That’s a 9.8 percentage point Democrat early voting edge, but that’s down more than 6 percentage points from 2012, which was a year Republicans won the state. Thus, early voting tallies bode well for Trump, who’s pushed the North Carolina polling to a dead heat in the past week.
CNN also found that early voting for Democrats has not matched Obama’s pace, whereas Trump has outperformed Romney’s, adding, “Independent voters came out this time in droves. They cast nearly 810,000 votes, up a whopping 42% from 2012.” It’s unclear how they will break, but Trump has done well with Independent voters in some states.
There’s some ugliness behind the numbers. In North Carolina, 17 counties controversially decreased the number of early voting locations, said NBC News; this has resulted in long lines at some polling places and lower early voting tallies. NBC said one county, Guilford County, which houses the largely black city of Greensboro, “cut early voting locations from 16 to just one.” This has resulted in declining early voting totals in North Carolina overall. A federal judge has ordered North Carolina to restore purged voter registrations as the result of an NAACP lawsuit. One study found fewer polling places in North Carolina compared to 2012.
In Utah, Democrats have an edge in early voting turnout as a percentage, although this might not mean much considering Utah’s electorate is so heavily tilted Republican (or unaffiliated). It does, perhaps, speak to a general malaise among Utah voters about the choice of Trump as the Republican nominee.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune:
Republican: 39.9% (268,259 votes)
Democrat: 45.4% (72,356 votes)
Unaffiliated: 33.7% (177,467 votes)
According to the Utah Secretary of State, as of November 7, this was the overall makeup of voters in Utah:
When you see the data above, it’s hard to see why some have been talking about Utah as a possible state that could spoil the electoral college math for Trump. However, independent candidate Evan McMullin, who is from Utah, has been running well in some polls. Still, Trump has recovered in polling and leads an average of more than 10%. Early voting has declined in Utah, showing some voters may be waiting until the last minute to decide. However, a lack of Republican excitement could speak again to the general weakness of the Trump campaign in Utah. That matters not if he ends up winning it, of course.
Final early voting tallies for Georgia shattered records there:
Georgia doesn’t break down early votes by party affiliation. However, as with some other states, Clinton’s concern is whether African-Americans would turn out at the number she needs. Around one-third of the state’s population, black voters overwhelmingly prefer Clinton, and she needs strong turnout among them to win.
According to CNN, as of November 1, 1.5 million votes had already been cast in the state. Of those, 31 percent were from African American voters, a decrease from 36 percent at the same time in 2012. But by November 7, NBC was reporting that black turnout was up slightly.
Georgia ended up breaking early voting records.
Clinton has made Georgia competitive, largely because of the state’s changing demographics, although Trump leads in recent polls there.
As with Georgia, Wisconsin does not release party affiliation of early voters.
In Wisconsin, 775,560 cast early ballots.
That shattered a record. In 2012, a total of 664,597 early votes were cast in Wisconsin.
Geography bodes well for Clinton as liberal Dane County and swing areas in the Fox Valley drove the increases, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said.
There’s good news for Republicans in Iowa. CNN says Iowa early votes by Democrats were about 3 percent off their 2012 pace.
Democrats lead in early voting in Iowa overall, but they did in 2012 too, and they have a smaller edge. Overall early vote numbers in Iowa have decreased as well, said CNN.
On November 7, The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported, “When comparing early-voting data the day before the election in 2012 and 2016, Democrats have 8 percent fewer early votes than they did four years ago and Republicans have 1 percent more than they did then.”
Ohio also doesn’t release party affiliation of early voters. However, CNN says there’s also good news for Republicans in Ohio, reporting that early voting in Democratic areas was less than Barack Obama in 2012.
The Clinton campaign was offering free tacos to early voters, which wasn’t illegal because the tacos were available to all, said Cleveland.com.
In one key Ohio Democratic county where Clinton needs to win big, Cleveland.com reported that early voting ended up being 16% down from 2012. Despite the lag in the important Democratic county, overall early voting was up in Ohio over 2012, said the newspaper.
On November 3, Arizona.com reported that Arizona had seen the highest increase in Hispanic turnout in the country during early voting.
Clinton, buoyed by the Hispanic enthusiasm for her candidacy and Trump’s rhetoric, has made Arizona competitive, even though it’s traditionally Republican. However, Trump’s standing in the polls improved in the past week, and he now leads in polling averages.
According to The Huffington Post, 1.6 million people cast early votes, up from 2012, and represents more than 70 percent of the state. Registered Republicans have a 6.3 percentage point lead, but there was no 2012 figure available for comparison, said the news site.
Early voting increased 18% in Virginia in 2016. VPAP.org found that the largest increase was coming out of a Democratic area, northern Virginia.
This bodes well for Clinton in a state she already leads by a fairly comfortable margin, and which is the state of her running mate Tim Kaine.
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