Final early vote numbers suggest a very close race

November 5, 2012

Early voting is now all but complete in all of the key states in the 2012 presidential race, which means it's time to figure out what it all meant.

First, a look at our trusty Early Vote Tracker, with blue-leaning Pennsylvania added for good measure:

Here's the overarching takeaway: In basically every state where we have good data available, Democrats performed worse than they did in 2008 but better than they did in 2010. And if you extrapolate the shift to the entire statewide vote, we've got a very close race in store.

This makes sense. After all, both 2008 and 2010 were wave election years, in which Democrats and Republicans, respectively, made massive gains. So the 2012 early vote was almost destined to fall somewhere in the middle.

And in almost every case, the 2012 early vote is either smack-dab in the middle of the 2008 and 2010 numbers or very close.

* In Colorado, Democrats won the early vote by two in 2008 and lost it by six in 2010. This year, they're right in the middle, trailing by two. (Reminder: this is simply the number of registered Democrats and Republicans casting ballots and doesn't directly reflect which party is gaining more votes.)

* In Iowa, Democrats won the early vote by 18 points in 2008 and by six in 2010. This year, they lead it by 10.

* In North Carolina, the 17-point Democratic margin is between their 2008 margin (21 points) and their 2010 margin (nine points).

* In Florida, Democrats' four-point edge is less than 2008 (nine points) but significantly better than their 12-point early vote loss in 2010.

In basically every state, Democrats' early vote edge is between four and eight points less than it was in 2008. Given that Obama won the popular vote in 2008 by about seven points, that would suggest a margin-of-error race.

And if you look at it state by state, it's a similar picture.

* In Iowa, Obama won overall by nine points in 2008, and his early vote margin was reduced by eight points this year.

* In Colorado, Obama won by eight points in 2008, and his early vote margin is down by four points this year.

* In Florida, Obama won by three in 2008 and has seen his early vote margin reduced by five.

* In North Carolina, Obama won by less than 1 percent in 2008, and his early vote margin is down by four points.

* And in Clark County (home to Las Vegas), which accounts for about three-fourths of Nevada's votes, Obama is seven points off his 2008 early vote margin. He won the state by 12 points last election. (Statewide data from 2008 is not available, but the shift in Clark County should mirror the state's overall shift.)

We realize this is hardly a perfect way to measure the early vote, but judging the early vote requires lots of educated guessing. And this is about the best way we can do it.

So if the early vote is indicative of a larger shift in a state's entire electorate, all of these states are very close, with states like Iowa and Nevada tilting slightly toward Obama and Florida and North Carolina tilting slightly toward Romney.

Which is basically about what the polls show right now.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | November 5, 2012