In a conference call this afternoon, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign had one central message for their supporters when Election Day arrives tomorrow: They should “keep calm,” even if they hear snippets of information favoring Republican Mitt Romney.
“My warning, we need to stay calm for much of the day,” Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said, touting thousands of early ballots already submitted by voters. “We’ve already banked a pretty big portion of our vote.”
This is noteworthy on a few counts.
First, it is Republicans who generally have gotten needlessly freaked out by exit polling, in part, we suspect, because exit pollsters don’t get an accurate sampling and/or Republicans don’t like to talk to them. That Cutter should be warning her troops is, to put it mildly, odd.
Second, if the Obama camp really has “banked a pretty big portion of [their] vote” they are in trouble. As has been widely reported, early voting is down especially in Democratic strongholds. I’ll give a few examples. In Summit County, Ohio (where Akron is located), about 47,000 Dems voted early in 2008; this year that number is 22,000. (By contrast 12,000 Republicans voted early in 2008; this time 14,500 have.)
Likewise in Virginia, Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweets that “182,545 absentees have been cast in VA’s Kerry/Obama counties, 152,142 in Bush/McCain. In ‘08, it was 228,043 to 175,792.”
This is not to say that Democrats couldn’t remain ahead after Election Day votes are tallied, but if Democrats are supposed to take comfort from early voting well then there isn’t much for them to hang onto, is there?
And finally, for once I agree (!) with Cutter on something. Exit polls have been unreliable in the past and if this is a close race they will be even less useful as predictors of the final vote. The biggest utility of exit polls is what they tell us in retrospect, after the votes have been counted and the exits poll finding re-weighted. We can learn a lot at that point about who voted for which candidates and why. Prospectively, they’re likely to give false comfort or generate needless worry.