Political Animal


November 02, 2012 11:45 AM Early Voting: “Who” Matters As Much as “How Many”

By Ed Kilgore

It’s safe to say that the entire political universe has tried at one point or another to divine the outcome of the 2012 presidential contest based on hints from early voting data. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball does a solid job today of explaining what we know and don’t know about the numbers in the battleground states. She adjudges Democrats as “winning” in terms of hitting the marks they need in Iowa, Nevada and Ohio, with Republicans “winning” in Colorado, Florida and North Carolina. She calls Virginia (where early voting is very limited) a probable draw.

But there’s a wrinkle to early voting strategies that makes the raw numbers potentially misleading. “Who” votes early can be as important as “how many” votes are banked. There’s a fascinating item up at the Tampa Bay Times wherein Obama campaign sources claim they’ve done a superior job in turning out “sporadic” voters early, which means they can concentrate on Election Day in turning out supporters who are easier to mobilize:

A trusted Democratic operative sent us some data on the early and absentee ballot vote in Florida so far to make the point that Barack Obama is crushing Mitt Romney when it comes to banking the votes of sporadic and infrequent voters before election day. So far more than 3 million Floridians have cast a ballot by absentee, mail-in ballot or in-person early vote ballot. Democrats lead by more than 60,000 votes, but it’s the unlikely voter numbers that jump out:
Of the nearly 414,000 Floridians who did not vote in the last three general elections, Democrats have an advantage of more than 53,000 votes. Of the more than 482,000 Floridians who have only voted in one of the last three general elections, Democrats lead by more than 77,000 - a total of more than 132,000….
We chatted with Ashley Walker, director of the Florida Obama campaign, about this:
“This isn’t 2008. We don’t have 15 days of early vote. We have 8 days, and so it’s a different race,” Walker said. “When you really dig down and start looking at at these numbers in who is turning out with these vote-by-mail numbers and early vote numbers, more of our sporadic, irregular voters than theirs by a three-to-one margin. And that means we have more old faithfuls to come out on election day. I’m not going to try to bullshit you - it’s a tight race, it’s a really close race, but any spin they’re trying to feed you that we’re behind where we were in 2008 is just spin….It’s a totally different race. The opportunities and the rules of the game are totally different.”

You may recall from a post I did last week that Obama campaign folk nationally have been talking a lot about “sporadic” voters in terms of their overall GOTV effort. If the Florida claims are correct, they are effectively executing a targeting of “low-propensity” voters in early voting, which is another way of saying they are expanding the electorate even if the total early voting numbers, and the Democratic advantage (if any), aren’t impressive.

I obviously have no way of verifying the Obama campaign’s Florida claims, but if they’re true, it could be an important ace-in-the-hole come Tuesday, particularly if Republicans aren’t matching this particular effort.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on November 02, 2012 12:09 PM:

    Florida has a Republican Governor, a Republican AG, and a Republican State Legislature.
    They have EVM's, AND voter suppression and intimidation.

    Them's might stiff odds for GOTV to beat.

    Still, I remain optimistic.

  • Eric on November 02, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Check this out
    West Palm Beach TV Station Obtains Memo From Nervous GOP Adviser

    We're doing just fine in Florida.

  • EdgewaterJoe on November 02, 2012 12:32 PM:

    And there was this tidbit from Jamal Simmons earlier this week on Bill Press: Romney has absolutely NO GOTV in his campaign. None. He literally outsourced it to the Republican Party and Ralph Reed, and focused on crudely produced ad buys, I guess.

    It will be so hysterical to know that the would-be Outsourcer in Chief lost, in large part, because of his propensity to ship the job to someone else ...

  • Ron Byers on November 02, 2012 1:25 PM:

    In this thread is link to a Palm Beach County television report talking about a memo from a GOP advisor indicating the Democratic GOTV effort is cleaning Romney's clock. The reporter interviews the Republican charged with running Romney's effort in Palm Beach County and he gives the impression that he doesn't think the GOTV is all that important. He sure doesn't have his hair on fire about it. The Democrats on the other hand are working it like there is no tomorrow. I don't know what it all means, but I am not sure the Republican operative is smart enough to recognize the importance of sporatics in a close election. I wonder if the Romney campaign is.

  • schtick on November 02, 2012 2:28 PM:

    I can't wrap my head around this. A Florida man had a stroke, filled out his absentee ballot and signed it with his left hand instead of right hand, used his initials for his first and middle name and Florida wouldn't accept it because the signature was different. They would not give him another ballot or let him vote because he already cast his ballot. How did he cast his ballot when they wouldn't accept it?
    Another way to push for voter ID, eh? My signature has changed because I have problems with my hands now and then, but I bet I could still punch someone in the nose if they told me I couldn't vote.

  • fletch on November 02, 2012 9:50 PM:


    I had the same problem in 2008.

    After I rolled my car 3 times at 65 mph in 2006(google "monteggia fracture"), my signature drastically changed.

    This is why I was happy that Ohio required a "photo ID" in 2008.

    I literally signed the election "poll book" with an "X", because I still couldn't actually write my name legibly- but I could show a picture ID that nobody could refute... and my vote counted.