Early Voting Smashes Previous Turnout Records

Matthew Vadum
By Matthew Vadum
November 6, 2018USshare

Voters casting their ballots in the midterm congressional election appear on track to smash midterm election early voting records from recent decades, according to the University of Florida Elections Project.

Early voter turnout in 29 states and the District of Columbia now exceeds the total early vote in the last midterm congressional elections in 2014. In three hotly contested states—Arizona, Nevada, and Texas—the early vote total this year exceeds the total vote count from early voting plus Election Day voting in 2014.

Early vote counts in 2018 in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington will probably exceed those states’ early voting figures from 2014, University of Florida associate professor Michael McDonald wrote on Twitter Nov. 5.

Eight states—Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas—“have at least doubled their 2014” early vote, he wrote.

McDonald added that he was “pretty sure that all states will pass their 2014 number.”

“We’ve never seen a midterm election like this since early voting became a feature of elections,” he wrote. “Election Day could still come in big and blow through the predictions.”

The total early vote count across the country for the 2018 election is 36,179,728, which is close to double to the early vote count for the 2014 election, which was 20,536,459, according to the Elections Project.

These high turnout figures suggest the total turnout in the current election could end up at the 45 percent or 50 percent mark by the end of Election Day, McDonald told CBS News Nov. 2.

On Nov. 4, McDonald revised his estimate downward and projected that the total number of voters in the election would be 105.5 million, or 44.8 percent of the voting-eligible population. The estimate was arrived at by working with Edison Media Research and represented a “best guess, based on the early vote that has been cast and comparable past elections.”

Marquee Races

Among the high-turnout states are those with marquee races that could help determine control of the U.S. Senate, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

In Florida, more than 5 million people have voted early, McDonald reports. Registered Democrats took a slim 0.5 percentage-point lead over Republicans on the last day of in-person early voting, he said.

In the Sunshine State, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is trying to beat back a challenge from incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. In the race for governor, Democrat Andrew Gillum is facing former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. In both races, the Democrats are thought to enjoy small leads in public-opinion polling.

The NBC News Data Analytics Lab reported Nov. 5 that in states that offer early voting, Republicans enjoyed a slight advantage. In such states, “42 percent of voters are Republican, 41 percent are Democrats, and 17 percent have either independent or have another party affiliation.”

Republican-affiliated voters have been voting at higher rates than Democratic-affiliated voters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas. But in Nevada, Democratic-affiliated voters have been outpacing those on the GOP side, according to NBC.

In Arizona, Republican Martha McSally is neck-and-neck in polling with gaffe-prone Democrat Krysten Sinema in a battle for a U.S. Senate seat. In Nevada, Republican Sen. Dean Heller is tied in polling with Democratic challenger Jackie Rosen.

In the bitter Georgia governor’s contest, Republican Brian Kemp has a small polling edge over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

McDonald is also projecting sky-high turnout rates—for midterm elections—of above 50 percent in 13 states.

The academic predicts the following total turnout rates: Alaska (57.5 percent); Colorado (53.6 percent); Iowa (56.2 percent); Maine (60.6 percent); Michigan (53.2 percent); Minnesota (61.5 percent); Montana (56.6 percent); New Hampshire (51.8 percent); North Dakota (53.2 percent); Oregon (51.4 percent); South Dakota (53.1 percent); Vermont (54.2 percent); and Wisconsin (59.9 percent).

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is being challenged by Democrat Tony Evers. Although Evers was leading Walker in polling weeks ago, his lead has evaporated. The most recent poll, by Marquette Law School, had the two candidates tied at 47 percent.

High Interest

In recent days, President Donald Trump has spoken at rallies for GOP candidates in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Ohio, and West Virginia. Former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden have also been speaking at rallies for Democratic candidates across the country.

The high early-vote turnout seems to have been foretold by a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed 65 percent of respondents had high interest in the current election. The most comparable expression of interest from voters in recent years was 2006, when 61 percent indicated they were highly interested in that midterm election.

Historically, most voters skip national elections in which there is no presidential race. Non-presidential elections often see a drop of 20 percentage points in voter turnout from the preceding presidential election. For example, voting-eligible turnout rates hovered around 60 percent in the four most recent presidential elections, according to the Election Project.

While Republicans shattered their own record for voter contacts, Democrats enjoy a financial advantage and go into the final days of the campaign with more cash on hand than Republicans.

The Real Clear Politics polling average for the so-called generic congressional ballot question gives Democrats a 7.3 percentage point lead over Republicans.

Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans are unlikely to hang onto the 435-seat House. Based on current standings, Democrats would need to pick up 23 seats to take control. Since World War II, the party occupying the White House has on average lost 26 House seats in midterm contests.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have an 87.5 percent chance of wresting control of the House from Republicans.

The website’s most famous forecaster, Nate Silver, hedged on ABC News’ “This Week.”

“So, in the House, we have Democrats with about a 4 in 5 chance of winning,” Silver said Nov. 4. But he added that “polls aren’t always right.”

On Election Day morning two years ago, FiveThirtyEight had given Democrat Hillary Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning the presidency.

Republicans have an 83.2 percent chance of keeping control of the Senate, FiveThirtyEight claims.

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