Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Incredible Early Voting Story In NC, GA

Folks, the early voting data out of Georgia and North Carolina is telling us something about this election. It's actually pretty incredible.

Because both states are still monitored under the Voting Rights Act, they report more detailed data on their early voters by race, as well as sex and, in NC, party.

The early vote turnout in both states has been quite incredible. Georgia has already surpassed it's early vote total from 2004 and North Carolina is likely to do so as well.

Here's what we're learning from these two states:

1. African-American turnout amongst early voters is HUGE. In Georgia, blacks make up about 29% of all registered voters in the state. Blacks typically turnout at rates below their proportion of registered voters--in 2004, African-Americans made up 25.4% of Georgia voters.

But, in the early voting in Georgia so far, blacks make up 35.5% of the electorate. Now, we can't say that means blacks will account for 35% of Georgia's votes when all is said and done. But, if they do, you can expect the state to go for Obama, and probably for GOP Sen. Saxbe Chambliss to be history.

The same story applies in North Carolina. There, blacks make up 21% of registered voters, and in 2004 they made up 18.6% of voters. In early voting this year, however, African-Americans make up 29% of voters in NC. Again, if this trend holds, then NC will be quite a blue state when it's all over.

2. Early voting is very popular in both states. In Georgia, which started early voting a little sooner than NC, nearly 900,000 votes had been cast as of yesterday. That's 27% of the total votes cast in Georgia in 2004. Turnout this year will likely be higher, but it seems pretty certain that fully between 30%-40% of Georgia's voters will vote early this year.

In NC, 830,000 votes had been cast as of midday today, which represents 24% of the 2004 turnout and fully 13.4% of all registered voters in the state. If North Carolinians continue voting at the same torrid pace, fully half the state's voters may have cast their ballots before election "day."

3. Democrats outnumber Republicans in early voting by more than 2-1 in NC (56%-27%). Now, you have to remember that in Southern states, many white Democrats are quite conservative and a significant number will support John McCain. Nonetheless, the proportions in NC are stunning. To put it in perspective, 46% of NC voters are registered as Democrats and 32% as Republicans.

4. Women are also turning out for early voting in very high proportions, accounting for 56% of early voters in both states. That may also favor Obama, since he typically polls better with women than with men. It may be, however, that many women have more flexible schedules (i.e., they're stay at home moms) to cast early votes.

5. The early trends aren't changing much. We've been following the early voting trends in both NC and GA for several days now to see if the trendlines would flatten out, or regress to some mean. In other words, we wondered if, over time, the large percentages of African-American voters, women voters and Democrats (in NC) would decline, reflecting simply a kind of early enthusiasm. So far, that hasn't happened. There has been a tiny decline in the proportion of black voters in NC, but only from about 29.1% after the second day to 28.7% today. Women voters and Democratic voters have stayed quite stable even as the early vote has ramped up.

Now, unfortunately, we don't have enough experience and data in this country with early voting to really know what these numbers are telling us. In past elections, however, Republicans have tended to dominate early elections. Certainly, in 2004, Bush did much better than Kerry amongst early voters. We think that's one reason the exit polls--which are conducted on election "day"--over-estimated Kerry's vote.

It's just a hunch, but we think the early voting data is telling us something pretty big. We think it's telling us Obama is going to win a big victory. Republicans strategists have been downplaying the early voting data in media statements. Their talking point seems to be that they will get their folks out on election day and that Obama is just getting his regular supporters out early. When the early vote was at 5% or 10% of the electorate in states like NC and Georgia, we thought that might be true. Now we don't. We betcha that in private, those GOP strategists are pissing in their pants.

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