Reading the early voting tea leaves: Republicans closing the gap

It’s October 21, and according to publicly available data from early-voting states, almost 2 million votes are already banked in states across the country. As early voting became more prevalent, Democrats first owned this pre-Election month of GOTV, but Republicans have been closing in on their efforts. The numbers “banked” before Election Day are an uncertain gauge of turn-out or results, because the practice of early voting is young enough not to have solid established patterns. Still, political scientists and analysts will take any data port in an anecdote storm, and a good map for Republicans paired with gains in this formerly Democrat-dominated area do not bode badly for the GOP.

Trajectory is perhaps a better metric for evaluating any pre-Election Day data, rather than using raw polls or voting numbers as a touchstone. In that spirit, two headlines about early voting from the Washington Post:

Oct. 20: Both parties poured big money into early voting. Who’s got the edge?

Oct. 21: Democrats have an early vote problem

From the first story, Reid Wilson on the importance and expense of early-voting efforts:

The higher-than-expected turnout, long before Election Day, suggests early predictions of dismally low turnout might be too pessimistic.

“There’s going to be high turnout, both in the early vote and on Election Day combined,” McDonald said.

This year, Senate Democrats have invested heavily in what they call the Bannock Street Project, a multimillion-dollar effort to register, identify and turn out what they call “drop-off” voters, registered voters who tend to show up in a presidential year but “drop off” in a lower-turnout midterm.

Getting those people to cast a ballot “is absolutely critical” for Democratic hopes of keeping the Senate, said Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “There’s a whole lot that’s critical to our efforts to hold the Senate. There’s no question this is one of the fundamental pieces, but we’ve been preparing for this for a long time.”…

With incomplete statistics, it isn’t clear which party has the edge overall. But it is clear that in some areas, Republicans have maintained or improved on past efforts to turn voters out before Election Day.

About 43 percent of Iowa voters who have already voted are Democrats, a sign that the party is turning out voters who might otherwise have stayed home. But around 40 percent are Republicans, a dramatic improvement over the party’s performance in 2012, when just 32 percent of the early electorate was registered Republican, and 2010, when 38 percent of early voters were Republicans.

In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his opponent, former governor Charlie Crist (D), have invested heavily in canvassing operations, Scott deputy campaign manager Tim Saler pointed to early statistics that show Republicans making up 48 percent of the early-vote total, compared with about 35 percent for Democrats.

From The Fix the next day:

Two weeks ago, we looked at initial early voting data compiled by the U.S. Election Project with the aim of sussing out how campaigns were doing at putting votes in the bank. At that point, it seemed like Democrats were doing particularly well in Iowa and North Carolina compared to voter registration numbers. Republicans were doing well in other battleground states.

Now, that’s changed. Compared to overall voter registration, Iowa and North Carolina Democrats are doing much worse than earlier in the month, and Republicans in those states much better. We’ve also added new states that recently began early voting: Nevada, California and Colorado. In each, Republicans are outperforming Democrats.

Interestingly, unaffiliated/undeclared voters are uniformly underperforming their registration numbers, perhaps in part because campaigns aren’t targeting them as aggressively in the early vote process. But that puts the poor performance of Democratic campaigns in sharper relief. If unaffiliated voters are underperforming as a percentage of all of the votes that are in, one would expect the two parties to be overperforming.

But Democrats aren’t.

The numbers can change, but a trend toward the GOP in a traditionally Democrat-dominated area ain’t bad in this environment.

And, I hate to get all Pollyanna on this site, whose Eyeore-ism I embrace, but Josh Kraushaar of National Journal imagines a sweep?

All told, the cascading number of controversies and scandals in the president’s second term has fed into the perception that this administration is out of its depth in doing its primary job: managing government. And that’s not good for Democrats, both the party in power and the party associated with an activist federal government. The dominant theme in the campaign’s final month is Democratic Senate candidates struggling to distance themselves from the president, from Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor’s awkward assessment of the president’s handling of the Ebola crisis to Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s refusal to discuss whom she voted for in the 2012 election.

Republicans now are positioned to net between six and nine Senate seats in the upcoming midterms, with the higher end looking more likely. Most of the battleground Senate contests are now either trending in a Republican direction or remaining stable with a GOP advantage. Trailing in the North Carolina Senate race throughout much of the fall, Republican Thom Tillis has lately put Sen. Kay Hagan on the defensive by connecting her to the president’s management of the ISIS threat and the outbreak of Ebola. In Colorado, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner has led in all of the six public polls released in October, with leads ranging from 2 to 6 points. Early voting data out of Iowa is looking favorable for Republican Joni Ernst, consistent with public polls showing her with a small advantage. The Cook Political Report recently moved the New Hampshire race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown into toss-up status, indicative of polling showing Shaheen still ahead but with a rapidly narrowing lead. Outside of Kansas, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg now has Republicans holding an edge in all the red-state races, reflecting a nationalized environment against the party in power.

None of those chickens should get counted pre-hatching, but it’s heartening to see a fair reporter like Kraushaar assess the environment in this manner.