14 days out: Does the early voting surge translate into support for Trump or Biden?

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DALLAS (NEXSTAR) – More than 30 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-shattering avalanche of early votes driven both by Democratic enthusiasm and a pandemic that has transformed the way the nation votes.

The 30 million ballots submitted as of Tuesday morning represents more than 20% of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even as some states are not yet reporting their totals and voters still have two weeks to cast ballots.

Americans’ rush to vote is leading election experts to predict that a record 150 million votes may be cast and turnout rates could be higher than in any presidential election since 1908.

“It’s crazy,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long tracked voting for his site ElectProject.org. McDonald’s analysis shows roughly 10 times as many people have voted compared with this point in 2016.

“We can be certain this will be a high-turnout election,” McDonald said.

So far the turnout has been lopsided, with Democrats outvoting Republicans by a 2-1 ratio in the 42 states included in an Associated Press count. Republicans have been bracing themselves for this early Democratic advantage for months, as they’ve watched President Donald Trump rail against mail-in ballots and raise unfounded worries about fraud. Polling, and now early voting, suggest the rhetoric has turned his party’s rank and file away from a method of voting that, traditionally, they dominated in the weeks before Election Day.

That gives Democrats a tactical advantage in the final stretch of the campaign. In many critical battleground states, Democrats have “banked” a chunk of their voters and can turn their time and money toward harder-to-find infrequent voters.

According to the Washington Post, the Trump team has concerns:

“Privately, Trump’s advisers are less bullish than the boss, admitting that he is behind in several key states. But they believe he can close the gap over the next 15 days, and have no interest in broadcasting anything short of certainty.”

Washington Post

However, none of this means Democrats will lead in votes by the time ballots are counted. Both parties anticipate a swell of Republican votes on Election Day that could, in a matter of hours, dramatically shift the dynamic.

“The Republican numbers are going to pick up,” said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who is tracking early voting. “The question is at what velocity, and when?”

Republicans argue signs of enthusiasm are meaningless — Democratic early voters are people who would have voted anyway, they say. But an AP analysis of the early vote shows 8% of early voters had never cast a ballot before, and 13.8% had voted in half or fewer of previous elections for which they were eligible.

The data also show voters embracing mail voting, which health officials say is the safest way to avoid coronavirus infection while voting. Of the early voters, 82% cast ballots through the mail and 18% in person. Black voters cast 10% of the ballots cast, about the same as their share of the national electorate, according to the AP analysis of data from L2, a political data firm. That’s a sign that those voters, who have been less likely to vote by mail than white people and Latinos, have warmed to the method.

Mail ballots so far have skewed toward older voters, with half coming from voters over age 64. Traditionally, younger and minority voters send their mail ballots in closer to Election Day or vote in person.

The mail ballots already returned in several states dwarf the entire total in prior elections. In Wisconsin, more than five times as many mail ballots have been cast compared with the entire number in 2016. North Carolina has seen nearly triple the number so far.

In-person early voting began last week in several major states and also broke records, particularly in crowded, Democratic-leaning metropolitan areas. In Texas, Houston’s Harris County saw a record 125,000 ballots cast. In Georgia, hourslong lines threaded from election offices through much of the state’s urban areas.

The obvious enthusiasm among Democrats has cheered party operatives, but they note that it’s hard to tell which way turnout will eventually fall. Republicans may be just as motivated, but saving themselves for Election Day.

“High turnout can benefit either side,” Bonier said. “It just depends.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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