Monday, October 31, 2016

Election 2016: Early voting snapshot



SO MUCH ATTENTION’S been paid to Election Day proper — one week from Tuesday, November 8 — as the pivotal day for this election season (and don’t get me wrong it still very much is), it’s easy to overlook or forget the fact that, for millions of Americans, Election Day is in the rear-view mirror. An estimated 19 million Americans have voted so far in the election, according to the University of Florida’s United States Election Project. The AP, citing observer data, says that more than 46 million people are expected to vote before Nov. 8.

For them, it’s all over but juggling Doritos and the remote while watching the returns. And to go by one broad canvass of the national mood, it may all be over but the sizing of the White House drapes. According to the Oct. 30 Reuters/Ipsos States of the Nation project, polling early voters surveyed over the past two weeks, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 15 percentage points.

Early voting has been under way for months in most of the country, including Oregon and Washington state (where voting by mail makes it all relatively painless). In Nevada, a critical Western swing state, Democrats are thought to have amassed a strong early vote tally, The Huffington Post reported on Sunday.

And hold the concession speech in Arizona; an impressive Democratic advantage in ballots requested suggests the Grand Canyon State may well be competitive this time around.

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In late October 2012, John McCormick of Bloomberg Businessweek reported: ““In two of the most competitive states in the U.S. presidential race -- Iowa and Nevada -- Democrats are building a significant advantage in early voting,”

Fast forward four years and not that much has changed. “As of Sunday morning, registered [Nevada] Democrats had established a 7-point lead over registered Republicans in the state’s early vote totals,” HuffPost reported. “That margin is just slightly below the lead Democrats held at the same point in 2012, when President Barack Obama ended up winning the state by 6.6 percent.”

What HuffPost (and its polling arm, HuffPost Pollster) found makes perfect sense, on the basis of party registrations and an increasingly diverse population: The Democratic Party is making the most of a natural edge in Nevada’s registered Democrats (90,000 more Ds than Rs statewide, HP reports) and a campaign-specific edge thanks to the worst Republican presidential nominee in our lifetimes.

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IN IOWA, The Associated Press reported Oct. 22 that Democrats lead early ballot requests, 43 percent to 36 percent for Republicans. And on Oct. 30, CNN noted that “Democrats are winning the turnout battle, and are currently ahead of Republicans by about 39,000 votes. But that's a significant drop from their position at this point in 2012, when they led by 56,000. Democrats enjoyed a similar lead of about 50,000 votes at this point in 2008 as well.”

True enough, the margins for Democratic wins are down from past elections. But it’s a mistake to discount the Obama factor in any early-vote totals in 2008 and 2012, two elections that were caught up in the frisson of the Obama campaigns.

Trying to superimpose those historically profound vote totals on those of the current campaign — and then say Democrats are “underperforming” now by comparison — smacks of historical dishonesty.

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What’s taking shape in 2016 is especially striking in the consistency of this year’s early voting compared to 2012. And the states where that early voting really matters. “Nevada is one of a small handful of swing states where polling aggregates show Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump currently within five points of one another,” according to HuffPost Pollster.

“To understand the state’s importance, consider this: If Clinton wins Nevada, she could lose all of the other swing states ― Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia ― and still win the presidency, assuming the non-battleground states do not shift.”

In Arizona, Republicans have recaptured the advantage, but only just. CNN reported on Sunday that registered Republicans “took the lead in Arizona this week, edging ahead of Democrats who surprisingly maintained a narrow turnout advantage during the first two weeks of early voting. But it's not all good news for the GOP: Their advantage today is about half the size it was at this point in 2012.”

Consider what the numbers were the week before. Citing figures from Catalist, a data research concern, The Associated Press reported Oct. 22 that in Arizona, “Democrats have a 44 percent to 31 percent lead over Republicans in ballots returned. Another 25 percent were independent or unknown.”

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COLORADO, not so many years ago a Republican bellwether, is up for the taking — by Democrats. Marshall Cohen of CNN reported on Oct. 30: “Registered Democrats continue to lead Republicans in terms of turnout -- an edge they've maintained since ballots started being returned. They're up about 27,000 votes, which is a significant turnaround from this time in 2012, when Republicans were leading by about 19,000 votes.”

A GOP consultant in Nevada offered what may be an accidental assessment of the outcome of the national race.“I think the Clinton campaign is far more organized,” Tom Letizia told McClatchy News. ““Their numbers have gone through the roof in early voting.” Republicans “are going to get their clock cleaned...based on what I’m seeing,” he said.

It’s curious how the GOP seems to love that “clock cleaned” metaphor. Four years ago, Evan Axelbank, a reporter with WPTV, an NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., got a copy of an e-mail from an adviser to a state GOP campaign. Among its findings was the big one, the overarching generality in the room, the one thing no one could deny.

“Conclusion: The Democrat turnout machine in the county has been very effective and they are cleaning our clock.”

Past performance of early voters is not a guarantee of future results, and your state’s mileage may vary. But as snapshots of voter inclination, they’re a very reliable leading indicator of what’s likely to come.

Image credit: Early voting in Nevada: John Locher/Associated Press.

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