Early voting has started in a number of states and we’re getting the first hard data on actual voters. So, it is time to start digging into the data to get a sense of where the 2016 presidential election stands.
There are three huge grains of salt to throw on top of the small tea leaves I’m about to read.
First, only a small slice of the electorate has requested a ballot or voted one. There are two types of early voters: those who find themselves in a situation where they must vote an absentee ballot, like our military stationed abroad, and those who choose to vote early. For the latter, only the most hardcore political junkies vote the earliest because they follow politics closely, know where the candidates stand, and are comfortable with casting a ballot. Early voting is just a dribble now, with 9,525 people who have voted (in the reporting states and localities). Over 100 million people will vote, and the pace of early voting will naturally increase as we approach Election Day when more people finalize their choices.
Second, voters’ behaviors are affected by the early voting options offered by election officials, which can change from election to election. These are just some of the changes. Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey will offer expanded early voting options for the first time in a presidential election. Colorado has moved to all-mail ballot elections, with in-person voting centers where eligible people can register and vote any time during the voting period. In 2012, Florida adopted semi-permanent absentee ballot status where mail ballot voters can request to vote-by-mail in the next election when they mail in their ballot, and we saw an increase of mail balloting in 2014. Ohio will send out absentee ballot requests to all registered voters who cast a vote in the 2012 or 2014 general elections. Iowa started their mail balloting slightly later than 2012 due to slower printing of ballots.
Third, the campaigns can change their mobilization strategies. Republicans have traditionally not placed much emphasis on early voting, or voter mobilization in general. This is not a deficiency, but a recognition that the Republican coalition is composed primarily of older, wealthier, and better educated people who have established ties to their communities and thus more often fit the profile of a likely voter. It is the Democratic coalition that is primarily composed of younger, poorer, and less educated people who more frequently move that more often need voter mobilization. These folks are also more often found in urban areas, which are thus fertile ground for campaign offices to base Democratic mobilization efforts. There is an interesting twist in this election, in that lower-education rural Whites have shifted their allegiances more towards the Republican Party. How the Republican Party will effectively mobilize this hard-to-reach constituency remains to be seen. And while the Democrats need greater voter mobilization effort, the Republicans have taken notice of Democrats’ organization, and began beefing up their early voter mobilization in key 2014 Senate elections.