The Party Line
1:14 pm
Mon October 29, 2012

Democrats Continue Early-Voting Advantage, But Don't Assume Too Much

With a week to go in North Carolina’s early voting, can we see any trends that might lead one to hypothesize that one presidential camp could be leading over the other, or is it a coin-toss still in terms of the numbers?

With many polls giving a slight edge to the Romney camp, several news organizations are classifying the Tar Heel state as “lean Romney,” although Real Clear Politics has the state as a “toss-up” in its calculations, even with a Romney +3 advantage in the poll averages.

While both political sides have warred over the polls and whether they are accurate, we can look to early voting ballots for some concrete voter turnout results.

In North Carolina, there are two ways that a voter could cast their ballot early: either by mail-in or walk-in, known as in-person absentee ballots.

Traditionally, Republicans have held the advantage in mail-in ballots cast, and this year is no exception.  In 2008’s total mail-in ballots cast, Republicans were 54 percent of those ballots cast, with 30 percent from registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters the remaining 16 percent.

This year, counting the mail-in ballots that have been accepted so far up to Saturday, October 27, Republicans hold that early advantage with a 53 percent to 27 percent lead among registered voters over Democrats.

But in the grand total of absentee ballots, mail-ins are dwarfed by walk-in ballots that are cast: 2008 saw only 9% of early ballots come from mail-ins.

Every political analyst had to be shocked in 2008 when nearly 60% of all the presidential votes cast that year came before election day; in comparison, in 2004, that figure was only 31%. 

Within the first 12 days of walk-in early voting, where voters can both register and cast their ballots, we have seen a remarkable increase over the same day cumulative totals in 2008.

North Carolina is currently seeing a 21 percent increase in the total votes cast for in-person early votes over the same time period four years ago.  In fact, on the first day of 2012’s in-person early voting, nearly 50,000 more votes were cast than on 2008’s first day voting. 

North Carolina crossed the million ballots cast within the first week of early voting this year; in comparison four years ago, it was the second Friday of early voting that the state saw a million votes cast. 

In 2008, of all the in-person early votes cast, Barack Obama’s ground game proved its worth: 54 percent of all the votes came from registered Democrats, while registered Republicans only cast 28 percent of the early walk-in ballots. 

This year, through the first 12 days of early voting, Democrats continue their edge in registered voters casting ballots, with 52 percent of the early votes to Republicans casting 29 percent of the ballots.

But one word of caution: we can’t automatically assume that this group of registered Democrats are indeed “voting Democratic,” because we have a unique set of Democrats, who are typically white, rural, and older voters.  We have to acknowledge that these folks, in all likelihood, vote Republican. 

Beyond these registered party affiliation, three critical areas of interest to both presidential camps could give some insight as well.

First, the racial breakdowns of walk-in early votes seem to indicate a continued level of interest by black voters that we saw in 2008. 

In 2008’s early votes, white voters constituted two-thirds of the 2.4 million ballots cast that year, while black voters were 29 perecent of those cast.  In combining both early and Election Day ballots, black voters totaled 22 percent of the electorate, a record.

This year, black voters so far represent 31 percent of the early votes, while white voters are down to 64 percent of the ballots cast. The difference among white voters percentages: “all other races” are now 5% of the early ballots cast, compared to only 1 percent of the 2008 early ballots.

Gender is another way to look at these early votes, and we have certainly heard much about the gender gap divide; yet some have written “what gender gap?”

In North Carolina’s early voting, the first 12 days saw a substantial number of women (56% of all the ballots cast so frar) voting versus men (only 43%).

Nationally, we typically see women preferring Democratic candidates while men prefer Republican candidates. And we see this pattern among party registration and affiliation in early votes. 

Among female voters, 56 percent came from registered Democrats, while 28% from registered Republicans and 17 precent from registered unaffiliated voters.

Among male voters, 46% were from registered Democrats, while 32% were from registered Republicans. 

Finally, are we seeing a repeat of young voters coming out to the polls as was evident in 2008?

For some comparison, in 2008, 18-30 year olds were 16 percent of the early votes cast; in the first 12 days of this year, they are at 12 percent.  In comparison, those age 66-100 were 18% of the early votes cast; this year, they are 28 percent.

So it appears that older voters are showing up as a larger percentage of the electorate than younger voters, seeming to support the “lack of young voter enthusiasm” argument going around the campaign trail here in North Carolina.

The last week of voting, as indicated by the graphic above, will certain give us some indication of how much enthusiasm remains within the North Carolina electorate. 

If you are interested, please follow me on Twitter (@CatawbaPolitics) where I update many of these numbers each day when the NC State Board of Elections releases the data and I crunch the numbers. 

With a week to go, I would expect North Carolina to have exceeded the 2.4 million early votes cast — barring significant damage from Hurricane Sandy.