Absentee Data In North Carolina and Iowa Offer Mixed Signals for Clinton and Trump

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Even though we are still 35 days away from Election Day, voters across the country are already casting their ballots for the general election.

Early voting has already started in states like Iowa and Wisconsin; and the vast majority of swing states now have no excuse absentee voting available. It is still early in the process but there is some interesting data coming out of a few crucial battleground states that will decide who wins the White House, and in some cases, which party controls the Senate. For right now, I want to focus on two states.

For Hillary Clinton, the most encouraging numbers are coming from North Carolina. As of today, 92,210 absentee ballots have been requested; 30,176 from registered Democrats, 36,086 from registered Republicans, and 25,676 from unaffiliated voters. That gives us a break down of 33% Democrat, 39% Republican, and 28% Independent. While that may not sound encouraging on the surface, it does when these numbers are compared to 2012. Right now, Democrats are running ahead of their 2012 pace in absentee ballot requests, while Republicans are running behind their 2012 numbers.

The graph from ElectProject shows how each party is doing, 35 days from the election, compared to four years ago.

oct-2-absentte-chart

And when you look at who has turned in an absentee ballot that has been accepted by the state board of elections, the numbers look even better for Clinton. So far, 13,572 ballots have been counted as votes; 5,440 ballots have been returned by Democrats, 4,733 by Republicans, and 3,321 by unaffiliated voters. In terms of a percentage of ballots returned and accepted as votes, 40% have come from Democrats, 35% have come from Republicans, and 24% have come from voters with no party affiliation. As with the requested ballots, Democrats are running ahead of their 2012 numbers with accepted ballots, while Republicans are running behind.

Back in 2012, Mitt Romney doubled up President Obama in the absentee ballot count. Of the more than 218,000 absentee ballots accepted that year, 66% were for Romney, while only 33% were for Obama.

Democrats should also be heartened by the graph below, courtesy of Old North State Politics. In 2016, the party has held a steady lead in the number of accepted absentee ballots. Contrast this from the 2012 data on the same chart where the GOP had a clear edge throughout the absentee balloting process.

2012-to-2016-mail-ballots-as-of-10-4-16

An even deeper dive into the data shows more encouraging signs for the Clinton campaign. It is still early in the process, but Democrats are returning absentee at a greater clip than Republicans in six of North Carolina’s bellwether counties.

2016

 

Compare these early return numbers to the final absentee results from 2012 and 2008 when Romney and McCain banked more absentee votes in five of the six counties; and the margins were not particularly close.

2012-2008

 

Obama was able to keep the numbers a little closer in 2008 than he was in 2012. This helped him carry the state by the state by the slimmest of margins in 2008, while he narrowly lost the state in 2012.

Democrats have done much better than Republicans during in-person early voting over the last two elections. Republicans, in addition to running up the score with absentee ballots, typically do better on Election Day itself as well. Obama was able to run up his early voting numbers to win all six counties in 2008, and five of the six in 2012.

Statewide, Obama lead John McCain by over 305,000 votes going into Election Day in 2008. In 2012, he led Mitt Romney by about 207,000 votes before November 6.

If Clinton wants to carry the state this time around, she is probably going to have to run above Obama’s margins from 2008, both in the bellwether counties and statewide, in order to offset the loss of white voters without a college degree to Donald Trump. If the number of returned Democratic absentee ballots are any indication, she may be on her way to doing just that.

Things are not all sunshine and rainbows for Democrats, however. On the other side of the coin, absentee data coming out of Iowa is showing some positive signs for Donald Trump.

The state has reported absentee requests and returned ballots since September 19 and it shows Democrats maintaining a lead in both ballot requests and returns.

A total of 170,914 absentee ballots have been requested as of this morning. Democrats have requested 89,250, Republicans 43,798, with 37,463 requests coming from voters not affiliated with either party. So far, 26,980 ballots have been returned; 15,481 (57%) have come from Democrats, 6,990 (26%) from Republicans, and 4,440 (16%) from independents.

How is this encouraging for Trump? While Democrats do hold an edge, the number of requests are far off their pace from four years ago. At this point, 35 days before the election, in 2012, Democrats had requested over 142,000 ballots and had returned close to 30,000. They are not anywhere close to that right now and a drop-off this steep is a big red flag.

What should give Democrats even more heartburn is the fact that the current absentee numbers look awfully similar to 2014. Take a look.

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2016-ballot-returned

Over the past two elections cycles, Democrats have won the absentee ballot count, and Republicans have done better on Election Day.

Four years ago, President Obama received 137,355 more absentee votes than Mitt Romney. On Election Day, Romney actually received more votes than Obama did. But Obama was able to run up the score so much in absentee votes, he still won the state by over 90,000 votes; or six percentage points (52% to 46%).

2012-to-2014-election-comparison

In 2014, Democratic candidate Bruce Braley also beat his Republican opponent, Joni Ernst, in absentee voting. But his margin was only a fraction of what Obama’s was two years earlier; only beating Ernst by 24,000 votes. On Election Day, Ernst demolished Braley, beating him by more than 118,000 votes on her way to a 52% to 44% victory.

There hasn’t been any polling done in Iowa since last Monday’s debate, but the polls leading up to it showed Trump with a consistent lead over Clinton. Iowa is a state that is more white than the country is, on average, and also has a high concentration of white voters without a college degree. So it is a state that should favor him.

Clinton is hoping to recapture the Obama magic of 2008 and 2012 in order to carry the state this year; and she still could. But right now, looking at the early numbers and the unfavorable demographic trends, it looks like the state may be slipping away from her.

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