Early Voting 2016: Halloween Edition!

(This post co-written by Paul Gronke and Brian Hamel, Department of Political Science, UCLA)

Even the prospects of ghosts, goblins, Russian hackers, and Wikileaked emails don’t seem to be able to stem the tide of early voters in 2016. It’s truly a historically early early vote total nationwide.  (Take that sentence, Doug!)   

Five days ago, we reported that in a number of key battleground states, close to 50% of all early votes cast in 2012 had already been cast in 2016. With less than a week till Election Day, these numbers continue to climb



The highest rate is in Louisiana, where the total early votes cast this cycle have already exceeded the total cast in 2012 over six more days of balloting.  Sec’y Tom Schedler talked about this last week at the Bipartisan Policy Center.  This may be a result of good election planning.  After all, if the Tigers beat ‘Bama this Saturday, there could be a few folks who won’t wake up until after Election Day! Something unique is happening in the Bayou State.

Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are also showing very high ballot return numbers, at or exceeding 80% of the 2012 totals.  

Overall, twenty-nine states have racked up more than half as many early votes as were cast over the full early voting period.  For many states last week, these totals only included no-excuse, vote by mail ballots, but now millions of more voters are heading to early in-person voting locations in most major battleground states.  

Out of Politico’s eleven battleground states, in fact, only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania don’t report more than half of the early vote has already been cast (if we use 2012 as a baseline).   This is going to create a huge problem for Donald Trump if, as some sources report, his early vote targeting operation lags Hillary Clinton’s. 

The numbers look even more forbidding for Trump if you look at the early vote totals as a percentage of the total 2012 vote.  These numbers have to be viewed with a bit of caution; state registration totals will have grown and shrunk during this period, and 2012 voter turnout is obviously an imperfect predictor of 2016 total.  However, these numbers aren’t going to have moved that much, and more importantly, the relative position of states will have changed even less. 



In Florida, nearly a requirement for a Trump victory, early votes exceed 44% of all votes cast in 2012.  In Nevada, not a key to a Trump victory, but a state that Harry Reid wants to deliver for Clinton, 45% of the 2012 total has already been cast.  In Tennessee, things are looking brighter for Trump–over half of the 2012 totals are in the books, although we have no data on the partisan breakdown of these ballots.

Michael McDonald notes that only in Nevada do the party ballot return totals indicate a clear Democratic advantage, and the election electorate will break for Trump (it has to if more Democratic votes are cast early). Still, this may mean that Clinton can redeploy her targeting resources in Florida and other states in a way that Trump may not be able to. 

These stunning figures could be the result of a number of factors, including voters simply responding to the convenience of early voting, the intensity of the campaign, the distinctiveness of the candidates, increased attention from the campaigns and parties on early voting mobilization, or any combination of the three. What is clear, however, is that early voting could be a key indicator of who is winning the horse race.

Data courtesy of Michael McDonald and the United States Election project.