There has been a lot written lately about putting too much credence in “early voting” percentages. The CW seems to be that while the numbers may indicate one thing there’s a possibility they mean something else that may, just may, favor Democrats. Seems to me they’re trying their best to make a horse race out of this coming wave election. For instance, POLITICO attempts to make the point with California:
California provides an illustrative example of the complexities of interpreting early returns. According to data gathered by the Atlas Project, a private Democratic consulting firm, 43 percent of California early voters have been Democrats, while 39 percent have been Republicans. Considering the Democrats’ current 44-31 registration advantage in the state, the GOP appears to be outpacing its share of the electorate, while Democrats appear to be staying home. Then again, in the 2006 early vote — a great year for Democratic candidates — each party drew 41 percent, a performance that was below Democratic registration and well above the Republican share.
And what about the indies? By my count that’s 82% of the electorate self-identifying as either Republican or Democrat. That means a huge 18% have identified themselves as neither and will decide the election. It was what made the difference in 2006 when independents on the whole supported Democrats.
Of course California isn’t the easiest state to analyze because of its proposition system and, well, the fact it is California. But the point holds. Many of those analyzing the early vote counts have to limit themselves to percentage turn outs from the 2 major parties because they are mostly assured that those voters voted for their party’s candidates.
So when you see these sorts of numbers, take them with a bit of grain of salt until you factor in this:
One of the most striking findings from The Hill’s polling is that voter opinions have remained rock-solid over four weeks, particularly among independents. In the overwhelming majority of districts, independent voters are breaking for Republican challengers while expressing widespread disapproval of Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
About all early voting numbers indicate is the level of enthusiasm among base voters. It is the indies who will decide the elections. ~McQ
There has been a lot of assertion flying around the net about how Democrats are “closing the enthusiasm” gap. The question, of course, is whether or not that’s actually true. Certainly any number or races are tightening as should be expected with 8 days to go before an election. And both sides are ginning up their Get Out The Vote drives – critical to a win. You also have the President and VP hitting the road for any number of at-risk candidates thereby punching up the visibility of those candidates and stirring up the base (although the level of enthusiasm among some base groups lags 2008’s).
But are the Democrats really closing the enthusiasm gap?
POLITICO seems to think the latest information from early voting says “no”.
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.
Two important points there. A) GOP turnout is running ahead of the party’s share of state wide voter registration. That’s a very important indicator of where the enthusiasm lies. When that sort of an advantage gained, history shows the results are usually favorable for the party that does so. B) Independents are more pro-GOP than pro-Democrat this time around. Each of the parties command about 30 to 35% brand loyalty in any election. It may go higher in some as the early voting indicates it is for the GOP this time. However, everyone understands that the party faithful alone can’t swing an election. It takes persuading independents to sign on and vote for the party to close the deal. Independents have shown consistently in polls that they’re favoring the GOP this time around.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has taken a look at the early voting as well, and comes to pretty much the same conclusion as does POLITICO:
So, the various estimates of early voting data each show an edge for Republicans: their voters have been slightly more inclined that Democrats in most states thus far. Under the most favorable set of assumptions for them, their advantage is around 9 points; by the least favorable set of assumptions, it is more like a 4-point edge.
These figures ought to seem familiar to regular readers of this blog. How come? Because they are very close to the enthusiasm gap as inferred by the consensus of pollsters — who, on average, show Republican candidates performing about 6 points better among likely voters than among registered voters — although their advantage varies from state to state and from polling firm to polling firm.
Take a look at Silver’s full analysis – probably one of the most exhaustive you’ll find. It holds up pretty well and it underlines the fact that the reports of a Democratic comeback – a closing of the “enthusiasm gap” – is founded more in “hope” than reality. He concludes:
Overall, however, the early voting data does not provide compelling reason to reject the consensus among pollsters, which is that the enthusiasm gap is most likely to manifest itself in a mid-to-high single digit turnout advantage for Republicans. When coupled with the edge that Republican candidates have among independent voters in most races, this suggests that they are liable to have a pretty good year [emphasis mine].
That seems to me to be a reasonable conclusion despite a rising tide of media stories implying that Democrats are coming back. There’s little reason to believe independents will begin to reverse their trend away from Democrats at this late date. There has been absolutely nothing happen that would trigger such a reverse.
Keep all this in mind as you read more stories that I’d put in the “whistling past the graveyard” category about Democrats keeping the House, etc. While I don’t believe the dire predictions of 70 or 80 seats there switching sides, I do believe more than enough will turn over to give the GOP a majority.