These data also provide us a handy look at who is already voting in this election. There are many caveats when it comes to what that means for the ultimate result, but it can be parsed and analyzed for a picture of what the electorate looks like, at least for now.
With that in mind, The Fix will provide daily updates on what we know about the election. Below is our first installment, focused on voting.
The national picture: Massive early voting turnout
The story continues to be an explosion of early voting across the country. According to the latest data from the United States Election Project, more than 73 million people have cast ballots early, which accounts for 53 percent of all 2016 votes — not 2016 early votes, mind you, but total votes.
The surges have been particularly significant in a few key states: Texas (where early voting thus far has amounted to 91 percent of all 2016 ballots cast), Georgia (77 percent), North Carolina (76 percent), Florida (72 percent) and Arizona (68 percent). All already have more early votes cast this year than in the entire early-voting period in 2016 — and often significantly more.
Early voting is less robust in the key Midwestern and Rust Belt states. In Wisconsin, early votes account for 52 percent of all ballots cast in 2016; in Michigan, 46 percent; in Ohio, 42 percent; and in Pennsylvania, 32 percent. But in most of these states, early votes have already far exceeded the final 2016 early votes.
The GOP is narrowing the early voting gap in key states
One caveat you’ll often see in these posts is that the partisan composition of early votes doesn’t necessarily tell us how the election is going. Voters who are persuaded to vote early may simply be ones who would have voted on Election Day anyway. Polls have also regularly shown Democrats being more likely to vote early or cast ballots by mail, while Republicans were more likely to wait until Nov. 3.
That said, banking ballots as early as possible is never a bad thing. And there are instances in which the GOP is closing the gap on early voting or the signs aren’t as encouraging for Democrats — much of it thanks to the introduction of in-person early voting, which Republicans favor over mail ballots.
In Florida, for instance, the Democratic edge in early votes has shrunk — with 41 percent registered Democrats, compared with 37.5 percent Republicans. That’s down from a 51-29 Democratic edge two weeks ago. The gap between the two parties in raw votes has also shrunk, from nearly 470,000 votes in very early mail ballots, to 384,000 votes in all early ballots two weeks ago, to 246,000 now.
In North Carolina, the Democrats’ advantage is still 39-31 but is down from 51-18 two weeks ago as in-person early voting has surged.
It’s a reminder that those early totals, which were often completely based on mail ballots, were something of a sugar high for Democrats — though they still carry advantages in turnout in all of the key states.
Nevada is also a question mark for Democrats right now. As the Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston writes, they are still running slightly ahead of the early-voting advantage they had over Republicans at this point in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the state by around 2½ points. But the advantage appears to be narrowing slightly, and they aren’t necessarily on track to match the advantage they gleaned from early voting in 2016. These numbers also matter more than in most states, because Nevada’s vote is often overwhelmingly cast early — 770,000 of the state’s 1.1 million votes in 2016 came in before Election Day.
The picture is less clear in Michigan, where some have pointed to data suggesting a GOP surge in the early vote. But data from TargetSmart shows a pretty consistent Democratic edge, which now stands at 43-38. Data from L2, which uses primary voting behavior to determine Democratic vs. Republican voters, shows an even bigger Democratic edge of 62-30.
Black turnout lags a bit
Another area in which the numbers could perhaps be better for Democrats is early turnout among Black voters.
In Georgia, they currently make up about 29 percent of the early vote, compared with 32 percent of the final total vote in 2016 and nearly 34 percent in 2018, when a Black Democrat, Stacey Abrams, nearly won the state’s gubernatorial race.
In North Carolina, they currently make up 20 percent of the early vote, while they were 23 percent of the electorate in 2016.
Part of this may simply be because Black voters are less likely to vote early, and the deficits could be made up on Election Day. But in North Carolina, for instance, the 20 percent share of Black voters in the early vote is shy of their 22 percent share in the 2018 early vote.
It’s also important to note that while Black voters may lag as a percentage of the total early voters, their raw numbers are rising — and, in some cases, by a huge amount. As TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier notes, for instance, more Black seniors have already voted in Texas than have voted in any election in the state’s history.
The most encouraging sign for Democrats
As we’ve noted, given that the early votes could just be ballots that would ultimately have been cast on Election Day anyway, it’s difficult to extrapolate too much when it comes to what it will ultimately mean.
But one way in which it can be instructive is when it comes not to the overall partisan totals, but to voters who didn’t previously vote. Adding friendly voters to the electorate is a key aim for any campaign, and given that 2020 is likely to see record overall turnout, looking at precisely who is being added to the process can be telling.
This is an especially encouraging sign for Democrats. According to Bonier, more than 15 million people who didn’t vote in 2016 cast ballots early in 2020, as of Tuesday, and Democrats’ lead among those voters is twice as big as with early voters who did cast ballots in 2016. It’s 11.7 percent in Florida, 10.4 percent in Arizona and 22.7 percent in Iowa.
Similarly, as of Monday, about 188,000 Michigan voters who didn’t vote in 2016 had cast early ballots, and they leaned about 14 points more Democratic than the state as a whole.
Data from the Democratic research firm Hawkfish have shown a similar trend among new voters, as Politico detailed last week.
Amy Gardner and Lenny Bronner contributed to this post.