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Early Voting Trends Show Dems Falling Short in 3 out of 4 Battleground States

Author: John Pudner
Created: 29 October, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
4 min read

Editor's Note: This opinion piece originally appeared in The Hill, and has been republished on IVN with permission from the author.

Polling indicates Joe Biden and the Democrats will win big. However, Democrats are falling short of the edge they need in early voting to offset the Republicans’ anticipated big edge in Election Day voting in three of four battleground states where data is available.

If pollsters adjusted to fix 2016 mistakes, the RealClearPolitics average in each state shows Biden winning 341-197 and Democrats taking control of the Senate. This grid shows a middle scenario, that state polling averages are just as far off as in 2016, that would add Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina to the Trump column, still leaving Trump short 310-228, but likely meaning the GOP held the Senate 51-49. The third scenario is that the fact that most poll respondents believe their neighbors are supporting Trump indicates he is actually going to win but people are scared to give their true opinion.

However, if people are simply scared to give their opinion to pollsters, another option is to look at the breakdown of who has actually voted.

Forbes polling indicates that roughly half of all voters plan to vote early, with 62 percent of Democrats planning to vote early while 72 percent of Republicans plan to wait and vote on Election Day. If that happened and independents split evenly (last time Trump won them), then Democrats would need to win early voting at least 70 percent to 30 percent to be on pace to barely overcome a 31 percent to 69 percent disadvantage in partisan Election Day votes.

The Elect Project indicates Democrats are only hitting that mark in one of four battleground states where data on the partisan breakdown of early voters is available.

For instance, in Pennsylvania, Democrats have cast 946,662 early votes and Republicans cast 262,838, for a 79 percent to 21 percent edge that is well above the 70 percent Dems need to hit in early voting to match Republican turnout on Election Day. Translation, advantage Democrats in Pennsylvania.

In Iowa, Democrats have cast 336,780 early votes and Republicans cast 199,586, a 63 percent to 37 percent edge, which is well short of the 70 percent they need to hit. Advantage goes to Republicans in Iowa.

In Florida, much has been made of Democrats flipping the early voting edge this year by outvoting Republicans 1,926,055 to 1,463,281 so far. However, that 57 percent of the partisan share is well short of the 70 percent they need to beat expected Republican turnout. Democrats' early voting across the state is actually falling well short of what they would need to win if they lose Election Day 31 percent to 69 percent. Again, the advantage goes to Republicans in Florida.

Nevada might be the most telling state, though hardest to calculate. So far, Democrats outvoted Republicans 170,689 to 122,735 for a 58 percent to 42 percent edge. At first glance, that would be well short of the 70 percent they need in other states. However, in Nevada they only need a 59 percent to 41 percent edge in early voting since only about 1 in 5 voters will wait until Election Day. Ballots were mailed to all voters, and even in 2016 more than 60 percent voted by mail in the state. Advantage Republicans in Nevada.

If Biden's polling edge in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin holds up, then even flipping Nevada would leave Trump five electoral votes short at 264. However, reports of the Democrats’ edge in mail in votes is exaggerated due to noncompetitive states like California where 2.9 million Democrats and only 1.1 million Republicans have voted early. If 72 percent of Republicans really are waiting until Election Day to vote the race becomes very close.

A strong ground game is crucial to Democrats, normally including collecting ballots everywhere from college campuses to nursing homes, and on Election Day driving thousands of vans filled with likely supporters to the polls. None of that is happening because of COVID-19, and the first time they tried to win an election with no ground game resulted in a double-digit loss.

The fact that Republicans were knocking on a million doors a week compared to none for Biden until the final weeks will result in Republicans winning Election Day by millions of votes. So far the Democrats have not built the 70 percent to 30 percent edge they need in early voting to wrap up a win.