Friday, October 17, 2008

Florida Early Voting Surprise: Mac Leads

To date, Obama has had a large to overwhelming lead in the "early voting" in every state for which we have some data.

Now the exception: Florida. According to a Survey USA poll of Floridians taken on October 16, 13% of voters had already voted, with the early birds going for McCain by a margin of 53%-45%.

Those results are in sharp contrast to the results found in recent days in other Survey USA polls of Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and North Carolina, where Obama had anywhere from an 8 point to a 30 point lead in early voting.

So what's going on in Florida?

A couple possibilities. One is the poll itself (we again remind our readers--these are not actual vote tallies we are reporting; instead, they are based on a poll, which is in essence an exit poll of a very small sample of voters; we hope we needn't remind our readers of the pitfalls of exit polls in general). The Survey USA sample in Florida was unusually small--only 553 "likely voters," of whom only 13%--82 people in the sample--had already voted.

Still, we doubt that is the story, although it could be a part of it.

A second possible explanation has to do with how Florida's early voting is proceeding. Up to now, only absentee ballots have been cast. These are the kind of ballots that require a person to swear they will be unable, for a variety of reasons, to vote on election day.

On October 20, Florida will open true "early voting," i.e., in-person voting at regular polling places, where a registered voter is not required to have an excuse for voting early.

Over the years, traditional absentee balloting has tended to favor Republicans. These are voters who request a ballot by mail and send it in.

On the other hand, in-person early voting may favor Democrats (that our surmise, but the data is still spotty; we'll know more after this election). Think of it this way: early voting gives a Democratic "get-out-the-vote" organization a number of days, or even weeks, to ferry people to the polls who otherwise might not make it on election day.

We believe Obama's superb field organization is highly suited to taking advantage of this kind of opportunity. We'll see. It will be interesting to follow the Florida numbers and see is they flip after October 20.

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