Though Election Day is still a week away, millions of Americans have already voted via absentee ballot or other early-voting provisions. New York’s Ed Kilgore writes that 30 to 40 percent of the ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election could come early. That number was 36 percent in 2012, a jump from just 16 percent in 2000. Many states release early-vote data as it comes in, meaning it’s possible to get a bit of a preview of how the election is playing out so far. That preview comes with important caveats, the most important of which is that a ballot cast by a registered Democrat or Republican is not necessarily a Democratic or Republican vote. Moreover, the early-voting electorate doesn’t resemble the electorate as a whole, with early voters tending to be older and much more engaged in the political process. For these and other reasons, University of Denver professor Seth Masket wrote in FiveThirtyEight last week, early voting is positively but loosely correlated with final election results, and was misleading in a number of cases in 2012:
Democrats maintained substantial leads among early voters in North Carolina, Louisiana and West Virginia, and were trailing by a relatively narrow margin in Oklahoma, but still lost those states when all the votes were counted. Republicans won early voters in Pennsylvania and Colorado but lost the final tallies there. Maryland was a safely Democratic state in 2012, but the 75 percent of the early vote that went the Democrats’ way was a far cry from the 63 percent of the total vote they won once voting was finished.
With those caveats in mind, early votes are still, in fact, votes, and they count just as much as the ones that will come in next Tuesday. It’s worth noting, then, who seems to be ahead in the current tally, especially in key states. Here’s a look at nine of them.
Where Democrats Are Ahead in Early Voting
Of all the swing states, the Democrats have the most cause for celebration in Nevada, where they lead Republicans in early votes cast as of Monday by 6.6 percentage points—43.2 percent of early votes have come from Democrats compared with 36.6 percent from registered Republicans and 20.2 percent that are listed as “other.” As analyst Jon Ralston said on Monday morning, 60 percent of Nevada voters are expected to vote before Election Day—31 percent have voted already—making the Democrats’ lead in ballots cast a bad sign for Trump. “Trump almost surely is losing Nevada and remains likely to lose it,” Ralston wrote, “unless voting patterns are very different from 2012—that is, unless Hillary Clinton is hemorrhaging her base more than Donald Trump and indies are voting big for him.”
Clinton also appears to have the edge in North Carolina according to the Upshot’s analysis of the state’s early vote data. North Carolina releases highly detailed information on every single early voter. Based on the voting history and demographics of those voters, the Upshot estimates Clinton has a 12-point lead among early voters and is six points ahead in the state overall—a lead higher than the one implied by recent polling. The bad news for Clinton is that early voting among black voters seems to be down from 2012 according to analyst Michael Bitzer of Catawba College. Blacks have cast roughly 21 percent of ballots so far this year compared with 27 percent in 2012, a drop that may be attributable to the impact of Hurricane Matthew and GOP voter suppression.
As of Monday in Colorado, Democrats are leading Republicans 331,153 to 300,275 in ballots cast, while unaffiliated voters have submitted 223,540 ballots. Democrats have led since early voting started in mid-October, which is good news for Clinton given that polls seem to have tightened in the state—so much so that the campaign just announced it was making its first ad buy in Colorado since July.
Iowa’s early returns are a mixed bag. More than 400,000 Iowans have voted early; 43.9 percent of them are registered Democrats, 34.3 percent are registered Republicans, and the rest are listed as “no party” or “other.” Additionally, the New York Times reports that early votes from Hispanics are slightly up from 2012. On the other hand, the Times also reports that young voters and black voters have thus far made up a lower share of the early electorate than in 2012. High turnout overall among those constituencies will be key to Clinton’s chances. Though Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008 and 2012, Trump appears to be a slight favorite to carry the state in 2016.
Where Republicans Are Ahead in Early Voting
In Florida, Republicans lead in the early and absentee ballot count by just a few tenths of a percentage point: 40.4 percent of early votes are from registered Republicans vs. 40 percent from Democrats and 19.5 percent from “other” and “no party affiliation.” There is good demographic news for Democrats, however. According to University of Florida professor Daniel A. Smith’s analysis of early return data, Hispanics cast roughly 10 percent of the state’s mail-in and in-person early votes in 2012. So far this year, they’ve cast nearly 13 percent of mail-in votes and roughly 14 percent of in-person votes, an increase that makes sense given that the number of Hispanic voters in the state has grown—from 13.6 percent of registered voters in 2012 to 15.6 percent today. According to Smith, 29 percent of the Hispanics that had voted through Sunday hadn’t voted in 2012. But there’s potential good news for Trump in the data, too. The burst in enthusiasm among Hispanics in Florida is paralleled by that of unaffiliated voters—as of Sunday, a third of those who’d voted in 2016 and did not list a party preference had not voted in 2012. Recent polling shows Donald Trump has been winning independents, meaning those new unaffiliated voters could be among those galvanized by his campaign.
Republicans were ahead in Arizona by 34,000 ballots cast as of Sunday, according to CNN. Arizona is one of the traditionally solid red states that the Trump candidacy has shifted into swing territory, and early voting actually began with Democrats having cast more ballots than GOP voters. Although Republicans have regained the lead, they’re ahead by substantially less than the 62,000-vote margin they held at this point in 2012.
Where It’s Hard to Tell
Georgia, another red state that some have speculated could be in play for Clinton, doesn’t release early vote data by party affiliation, which makes it difficult to suss out who’s winning. Of the five counties with the greatest number of early votes cast so far, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, three were won by Mitt Romney in 2012. The other two, Fulton and DeKalb counties, encompass the Atlanta area, which went heavily for Obama in 2012 and can be expected to do the same for Clinton. All five are among the 10 largest counties in Georgia. Overall, 6 percent more early ballots have been cast so far than at this point in 2012.
In Ohio, an analysis of county-level return data by Cleveland.com’s Andrew J. Tobias suggests things aren’t looking good for Clinton. As of Friday, 4 percent fewer early ballots have been requested as compared with 2012 in counties won by Obama four years ago. By comparison, counties won by Romney have requested 11 percent more ballots than in 2012. “Some of the greatest numerical gains,” Tobias wrote, “took place in Southwestern Ohio counties—Butler, Clermont, Greene, Miami and Warren—where Romney won by 60 percent or more.”
In Utah, where either Clinton or independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin could plausibly pull off a highly amusing upset, 30,000 Democrats, 77,000 Republicans, and 63,000 unaffiliated voters have cast their ballots as of Friday. Early vote totals are lower than state officials expected, suggesting turnout overall among the state’s predominantly Mormon and conservative electorate could be depressed (in more ways than one) come Election Day.