The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Checking the Toomsday Forecast Each Morning Can Be Maddening


The poll-oriented bits of this morning’s Jolt . . .

Early to Vote, Early to Rise, Makes a Man . . . Not Spend Time on Line on 11/2

I suspect it’s easy to overstate the value of the early vote; in 2008, roughly 31 million voted early or absentee out of a total of 131 million votes cast in the presidential race, so roughly 23 percent. On the other hand, early votes are more concrete than poll responses.

Politico offers an early, comprehensive sense of how they’re going so far: “Just over a week before Election Day, signs of widespread Republican enthusiasm are apparent in the early-voter data, including in some places with highly competitive statewide races. Yet at the same time, for Democrats there are promising data in numerous states suggesting that the idea of a devastating turnout gap may be overblown. POLITICO surveyed early voting through Saturday in 20 states, and in 14 of the 15 that have voter registration by party, the GOP’s early turnout percentage is running ahead of the party’s share of statewide voter registration — whether measured against 2006 or 2008, when President Barack Obama’s campaign led to a surge in Democratic voter registration. As a result, Republicans say they’re turning the tables on the Democratic dominance of early voting that paved the way for Obama’s victory in 2008 — and that independents’ lean toward the GOP this year will do the rest.”

As much as I would like to be doing cartwheels over the early voting numbers, I tend to agree with this cautious attitude from Nate Silver: “First, early patterns seem to differ a lot from state to state this year — with Republicans posting terrific numbers in some states at the same time Democrats do surprisingly well in others. So there tends to be some cherry-picking in the analysis of results: Democrats, for instance, might point to their numbers in Iowa and Ohio, which are good, and Republicans theirs in Florida or Pennsylvania. Second — even if we know how many people in each party have cast ballots so far — it’s not clear what the point of comparison ought to be to be. Is the benchmark supposed to be 2008, when Democrats put a ton of emphasis on early voting? (If so, this year’s numbers look really good so far for Republicans.) Or is then benchmark the years prior to 2008, when the conventional wisdom held that older voters — who are more likely to be Republican — were most inclined to vote early or by mail? Is the idea that, because Republicans are apparently more fired up in this election, they ought to be doing especially well among early voters? Or can the number of early voters be taken more or less at face value in terms of predicting the eventual turnout? Articles grounded in different assumptions about the comparisons may come to very different conclusions about what the early voting data implies. That said, I do think there is some value in looking at the early voting numbers. And they seem to point toward an enthusiasm gap that is broadly consistent with what the pollsters are seeing.”

ADDENDA: Tracking polls are always interesting, but you have to be ready for them to bounce around a lot because of their generally smaller sample sizes. The Morning Call/Muhlenberg tracking poll stunned us all when it debuted with Joe Sestak leading Pat Toomey, 44 percent to 41 percent. The next night the two were tied at 43 each; then Toomey led 45 to 42. This morning? Toomey 47, Sestak 42. That’s obviously preferable to the alternative, but you can drive yourself insane looking for the reason and meaning behind every 2 percentage point shift.

Tags: Early Voting


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