Florida early voting rates tell a familiar story

It’s Sunday night, and the end of the first week of early voting. We have a variety of data to show you tonight. First up, battleground Florida.

Just as we’ve seen in many other early voting states this year, Florida has high rates of Democratic turnout. Democrats appear to be voting early at nearly twice the rate of Republicans—notable in a state where the two parties’ registered voter totals are roughly equal.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that these are only early in-person figures. Florida law restricts the dissemination of reports about absentee by-mail activity to registered political parties. Professor Michael McDonald, with better contacts than I, reports that combined early votes in the state are actually evenly split between in-person and by-mail ballots. Normally, we would expect those mail voters to trend more Republican, and that’s essentially what McDonald finds: when the two modes are combined, Democrats have cast 44.3% of the ballots, while GOP votes account for 40.5% of the total.

The combined data also reveal that 26% of the state’s registered voters have now voted early. And we’re not nearly finished: past experience suggests that the second week will yield even higher early in-person returns.

We are also able to attach these early in-person voting data to the state’s voter registration file, which yields interesting demographic detail. You should be aware that our registration files were obtained earlier in the summer, so we are missing information for any voters who registered more recently (this explains the unusually high rate of ‘unknowns’ in our statistics). Still, we’ve plenty of data from which to draw interesting conclusions. I’ll start with race.

The graph on the left shows cumulative early voting rates by day and by race (which I’ve combined into white, black, hispanic, and other or unknown). The bar graph on the right breaks down the ballots cast into by race, and again within those categories by party registration. (The combined total of all the bars on the graph equals the total number of ballots cast.)

As in North Carolina, we’re seeing unusually high rates of African-American early voting. Blacks account for approximately 14% of the registered voters in Florida, but approximately 20% of the early in-person vote. (And look at the bar graph: they are staggering Democratic.) Assuming that voters cast their ballot in line with their party affilliation—given that this is a secret ballot, that’s all we have available—the coveted Hispanic vote appears to be roughly equally divided between Democrat and Republican.

Watch those “unknowns” though—most of the voters in this category have newly registered since we obtained the registration database in the summer. As the graph on the right shows, the majority of these new voters affiliate with the Democrats. Evidence of a successful get-out-the-vote drive for the Obama campaign?

The breakdown of early in-person votes by age is very similar for both parties, although Republicans again show a tendency to be slightly older. The mean age of Republican voters is 58, compared to 55 for the Democrats, and the shape of the graph conveys this disparity. Of particular interest is the graph of non-affiliated early voters, who show a marked tendency to be younger—the mean age is just 52. Note how this graph skews more toward younger voters.

So, what conclusions to draw? It’s hard to say: the campaigns have vast operations in Florida, and voters on both sides appear to be well motivated. I expect early turnout to break previous records, but the high turnout may simply be a function of extraordinary participation across the board for this election. Neither party appears to have a clear advantage at this stage—although the high African-American turnout must be good news for the Obama campaign.