Who’s Voting Early?

Greg Sargent has an excellent piece on early voting–especially in Iowa–today. But whether or not you buy his suggestion that Democrats are giving themselves a leg up that may not yet be reflected in Senate polls, he makes a crucial distinction that’s important to keep in mind:

The premise of the DSCC’s voter-mobilization program is that overcoming the Democrats’ “midterm voter drop-off problem” will require more than just getting out unenthusiastic voters. It will also require a hyper-targeted effort to mobilize voters who did not vote in 2010 — a very deliberate effort to expand the electorate beyond the one showing up in polls.

According to new figures from the hard-fought Iowa Senate race supplied by the DSCC, this may be happening….

[A] DSCC official says its model shows Dems are bringing in significantly more non-2010 voters than Republicans are:

Over 31,000 Iowans who did not vote in the last midterm election in 2010 have already cast ballots. Nearly 15,000 of these voters are registered Democrats, while just half that number are registered Republicans. Over 9,000 of these voters are unaffiliated, and our models indicate that they break toward Braley by a similar two-to-one margin. All told, Braley has a lead of over 10,000 votes among these new midterm voters.

An additional 26,000 registered Democrats who did not vote in the 2010 election have requested ballots but not yet returned them. Just 14,000 additional registered Republicans who did not vote in the 2010 election have requested ballots. And 20,000 additional unaffiliated voters who didn’t vote in 2010 have requested ballots — again, they break heavily toward Braley.

[Political scientist Michael] McDonald says his analysis indicates this may go beyond Iowa: “In North Carolina and Georgia, the share of registered Democrats and African Americans who are voting is greater among those who don’t have a 2010 history than among voters that do.”

Greg goes on to suggest that these voters “might begin to show up in polls as we get closer to election day.” That’s true of polls that base likelihood to vote on subjective indicators rather than past voting (or non-voting) behavior, or who actually ask about or factor in early voting. On this subject even more than on others, paying some attention to polling methodologies, or at least relying on averages, makes abundant good sense.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.