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Tea leaves: early voting

November 6th, 2012, 1:00pm by Sam Wang

Early voting has been kicked around as an indicator of how the vote will turn out. It’s not perfect, since it reflects a combination of opinion, voter intensity, and maybe get-out-the-vote efforts. Still, here are some comparisons, taken from Prof. Michael McDonald’s early voting site at George Mason University. These are the fraction of early voters who were registered as Democrats.

State 2004 %D 2008 %D 2012 %D
Colorado 37.7% 34.6%
Florida 40.7% 45.6% 42.9%
Iowa 46.9% 42.3%
North Carolina 48.6% 51.4% 47.7%

The basic pattern is clear: an increase from 2004 to 2008, and a decrease from 2008 to 2012. In these cases, the decrease since 2008 averaged 3.5%. Subtracted from the Obama-McCain popular vote margin, 7.3%, that would leave Obama +3.8%, not so far from where the Meta-Margin is.

What are your favorite tea leaves?

Tags: 2012 Election · President

101 Comments so far ↓

  • Jon V

    I am not sure that Florida represents a decrease in D “enthusiasm” as the % change is not that much, especially considering the significant reduction in the amount of time available for early voting

  • RandyH


  • Ralph

    I’m not sure what any of it means. I’m sure there is some loss of enthusiasm. There always is for the second term. What are the total numbers? Are they up? If so, it may reflect more Republicans voting at their leisure.

    • Todd Horowitz

      Usually the second term for a party brings increased enthusiasm, or at least increased vote totals. Clinton in ’96, Reagan in ’84, Nixon in ’76, Johnson in ’64, Eisenhower in ’56, FDR in ’36, etc., going back into the 19th century: they all exceeded their first term totals. This election looks like the first exception to that pattern since… um… 1856.

    • Fred

      I’m all opinionated out myself. I’ve seen every opinion under the moon. Even after most of the numbers are all in within the next day or 2 people will still be spinning it for days and you will still have opinions all over the place.

    • minimus

      Todd, Nixon in 76? Also, we are in unique times. Read Reinhart and Rogoff. Then consider what happened to Brown in the UK and Sarkozy in France. Voters are blaming Obama, like they blamed Brown and Sarkozy, for the extended sub-par recoveries that inevitably seem to follow major financial crises. If Obama wins, as I hope he does, it is perfectly obvious why it will be by a smaller margin than in 2008. That he is favored to win at all is a minor miracle.

  • Michael S

    3.8%-2.46%=1.34% swing, which would be within the margin of the supposed 1.5% swing towards Obama seen in national polls in the last several days.

  • Bertha

    I’m a Democrat and early voter in Florida. Most of my friends noticed 4 years ago that the lines were shorter on the actual election day since many more voting sites were open. This year, they waited to vote on election day. Not sure if this is significant, plus we had half the early voting days available, courtesy of our governor.

    • Fred

      Yea, not sure if Sam took into account the shorter early voting time in Florida. I’m sure that would skew the numbers quite a bit.

  • BrianTH

    I am pretty much rejecting any tea leaves, including these.

  • Steve

    Hart’s Location NH

    Frequently picks the presidential winner. Last night’s result …

    Obama – 23
    Romney – 9
    Johnson – 2

    2008 …
    Obama – 17
    McCain – 10
    Paul – 2

    So Obama is doing better in Hart’s Location this cycle.

  • wheelers cat

    monkey-picked oolong.

    that said, Sean Trende is having a breakdown.
    Shorter Trende– i got nuthin’.
    /throws out radar chaff.

    Dr. Linzer just aligned on twitter at 332 EVs.
    Take that Sean, you weak poseur.

    • Jordan

      It seemed like he was going to conclude that article by flipping a coin.

    • dharma

      @wheeler’s_cat. I know this is not the time or place…but I love ur cooments. What is ur blog?

    • InCythera

      RCP has really become a joke this year, as has Gallup.

    • Ms. Jay Sheckley

      Spearmint & oolong. But how can i get the monkey-picked kind? What benefits has the monkey union gained? Sweeter bananas now!

    • grandpa john

      He was also manipulating poll date cut of lines and polls included/excluded to keep Obama’s ave down in a couple of states. Of course he has been doing that for the whole polling season. I’m not sure, but it look to me as if it is a little late to be pushing a narrative. Maybe it’s a gene that Republican’s are born with

  • Khan

    There is so much voter suppression happening right now that it’s outrageous.

    In case anyone missed my comment a few posts ago, GOP elections group True the Vote has been banned from Ohio polling locations after they forged signatures to gain observer status. Also reported that they falsified their 503(c) filings.

    That’s a positive. Also, lines are ENORMOUS. Toledo poll workers reported that this year’s morning turnout dwarfed 2008.

    • wheelers cat

      will overall turnout be higher? it was 70% in 2008.

    • Khan

      @wheelers cat

      I do not know good sir. It’s very hard to make comparisons given wholesale changes in logistical benchmarks between the elections (e.g. early voting hours, methods of voting, # of polling locations, resources, etc.)


    • wheelers cat

      it always amazes me that ppl dont get that im grrlstyle. too many big words?

    • Froggy

      wheelers cat, old people like me don’t know what grrrl style is, let alone how to recognize it. However, I noted some time ago you self-identifying as a grrl, which I figured meant it was incorrect to refer to you as “sir.”

    • Khan

      My apologies. I’m afraid I don’t know what grrlstyle is…

    • E L

      @ wheelers cat Hormones?

    • Fagan

      Is anyone else worried about potential voting machine fraud? If I thought the election were going to be completely fair, I’d relax since most of my fellow nerds’ data suggest an outcome I like. But when Verified Voting reports 118 jurisdictions with as many as 7.8 million registered voters whose votes are counted by Hart Intercivic machines that produce no paper records (and thus no way to make sure they’ve been counted properly) it makes me a little nervous. Hart Intercivic, who manufactures voting machines, was bought just a few months ago by H.I.G. Capital, whose co-founder, Anthony Tamer, previously worked at Bain , as do 8 of the company’s managing directors. H.I.G.’s directors have collectively given so much money to Romney that their company is the sixth biggest contributor to all Romney committees ( and their voting machines are in use in jurisdictions in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Like I said, I’m sure Sam’s projections are accurate, as are Linzer’s and Silver’s — so is the prospect of incorrect vote counting high enough to concern me, or should I just relax?

    • Fagan

      Um, the news from Pennsylvania isn’t so good:

      Pressing the button for Obama yielded a Romney vote repeatedly.

    • Ms. Jay Sheckley

      wheelers, i didn’t [until you said sometime back] get that you were a grrl either though i have the same prob. You, though, are marvelously techy. Likely like many here, I have a small, admiring, wholly respectful crush on you.

      When we reach Plato’s Land of Ideals, I’ll meet you at Fast Monkey’s House of Oolong. I’ll be wearing an archaic smile.

  • Joel

    These barely even rise to the level of tea leaves, do they? Isn’t the whole question, ‘are these sporadic voters?’

    And we just won’t know the answer to that until tonight, God help me.

    I’m long past tea leaves. I’m trying to put my head down and focus on work for the next seven hours, instead of making myself sick with anxiety. That’s why I’m commenting here …

  • wheelers cat

    and may i point out that the white vote share has decreased in the same time frame?
    perhaps its a wash.

  • Howie Weiner

    Just voted for the President here in the south suburbs of Chicago. I always use the old paper ballot, love to draw the solid line connecting the arrow pointing to Obama/Biden. Realized it’s the last time I’ll vote for an Obama (unless Michelle runs for Senator in Illinois, mmm something to think about). Tea leaves? The President playing basketball in his hometown, Romney still out seeking votes. Speaks volumes about where the voting is at.
    I like the quiet seriousness of people practicing democracy, nothing fancy, no armed troops, just ordinary folks exercising their power. Love it. People at my polling place (heavily pro-Obama) seemed relaxed, confident. Tonight we’ll celebrate. Sweet home Chicago!

    • cdr

      “I like the quiet seriousness of people practicing democracy, nothing fancy, no armed troops, just ordinary folks exercising their power. Love it.”

      So true, and well said. Left the polling place at 6:15 this morning and “got emotional,” as they said of Obama last night. I do love this country. I hope Obama can lead it for the next four.

  • CobaltinSF

    There are other “leaves” on the ballot. Mittens had better hope they pass. He’ll be needing some long about midnight….

  • Khan

    I think people need to be careful making assumptions in regards to 2008 versus 2012 early voting totals.

    If the 2012 totals are close to 2008, that is actually a miraculous thing given how much early voting has been cut. Florida and Ohio lost several days worth of early voting and almost matched the 2008 total as it is.

    People are extremely enthused.

    • Sam Champion

      My tea leaves are qualitative, the most notable this. The genuflection at the election year altar of lost (Republican) souls – PA. To me, a dead give away.

  • Brad Davis

    I won’t be able to access any tea leaves or election news whatsoever once I get home. We just moved and we don’t have cable TV or internet connected until tomorrow, and I don’t know how to grab OTA HD signals for my TV.

    • Chuck Sigars

      Brad, you can probably find a inexpensive OTA antenna rig at a drugstore, $20 or so. Frustrating to find the signal sometimes, but it’s uncompressed and real pretty once you do.

  • Berkeley W D

    Ash lil off topic…but timely:

  • Calvin and Pete

    Not sure how much it matters that D% has declined. Probably only means that after 2008 R’s decided to place more emphasis on getting voters out early. If R early voters were going to vote anyway, whereas D early voters are in part voters who might not have voted on election day (I think there is some reason to believe this is part of the D strategy on early voting), then D’s may still enjoy a similar advantage on this aspect.

  • DaveM

    It would be interesting to know the age range of the commenters here. Perhaps the level of erudition has me mistaking this for an older crowd than it really is? This is my tenth presidential election, and although I’m feeling the constant undercurrent of nervous energy that always accompanies them, I’d hardly call myself sick with anxiety.

    The thrill of participatory democracy—wherein the outcome is truly unknown until the collective action of the participants has transpired—still trumps any fears I might have about the result.

    Tea leaves? The late play for Pennsylvania looks like a dead giveaway to me.

    • Dylan Wasserman

      I am 22 , My girlfriend is 23 and we are on this site everyday.

    • DelMartian

      My husband and I are in our 70’s and PEC (and 538) addicts. Guess the age range is large.

      We’re so twitchy we can hardly stand it. Also, we only saved some friends in WI from nervous breakdowns by sending along the “eat a bug” promise.

    • RandyH

      Dave lets just say I have been getting AARP mail for about 5 years now.

      Anxiety I am sure many of us have,it cannot be underestimated how important this election is.

    • DelMartian

      I should add though that the participatory democracy thing is indeed wonderful.

    • Mason

      I lurk often, but don’t comment rarely. I’m 30. My wife also reads. She’s 31. Our 8 month old mainly whacks the keyboard randomly. She still makes more sense than most freepers.

    • SouthernFried

      I’m in my late 20’s. It’s my third presidential election.

      It’s my girlfriend’s first. She was eligible to vote in 2008, but didn’t for various reasons.

    • grandpa john

      age 75 here. My first election old enough to vote was in 1960. Unfortunately being young and stupid, I voted for Nixon
      I can remember listening to earlier convention on the radio this was back when the can didates were actually picked at the convention, very few primaries as it is now and sometimes there had to be several ballots to determine the candidate, and the big demonstrations parades every time someones name was placed in nomination.

  • Pankaj

    follow Dan Froomkin @froomkin to find real time information about voter suppression techniques being employed in different areas.

    VoterID asked of AA voters in PA even though it was not required
    One Precinct in Milwaukee has only 1 machine and 300 people in line. They will never get to it as each person requires 3 min

    I can’t believe this thuggery is not reported by media and it is only interested in horse race. This is a shame in 21st century that we don’t have an independent election commission and independent redistricting commission in this country when we preach democracy overseas.

    • JeffSyr

      Those people will be able to vote. They will leave the polling place open, and in some cases, they just start handing out paper ballots which are filled out in line. With so many lawyers hanging around, those people in line are going to be able to vote.

    • DaveM

      The PA Commonwealth Court ruling which enjoined the requirement for Voter ID for this election also affirmed the state’s ongoing plans for implementing it, and specifically allowed poll workers to be instructed to ask for it; they simply couldn’t deny the right to vote to folks who didn’t provide it.

      It’s completely absurd and guaranteed to sow chaos and confusion, but it is what the court ruled. Did I mention that we here in PA really need to throw our current state administration out on its ear, come 2014?

    • grandpa john

      Could be that their paycheck depends on them not mentioning it.

  • dharma

    I don’t get it. How can you read this blog, see the probabilities at the top of the page (Baye’s. =100%) and have any anxiety. Unless of course you are Non-Believers?

    • badni

      Because the probablility is 100% that the people who go to vote or voted early add up to an Obama win.

      But the probability is less than 100% that it all adds up to an Obama win if you only include the people who actually get to vote, and have their votes get counted, and have those votes counted for the correct candidate.

  • Joey Scarborough

    “These are the fraction of early voters who were registered as Democrats.”

    Is it possible that the GOP said “hey, this early voting thing seems to advantages” and thus many Romney voters are voting early relative to the last 2 elections? They might not have as much left in the tank for today if that’s the case.

    What am I missing?

  • Nathan Duke

    Interesting tweet from Mark Blumenthal:

    “The final party ID #s for Post/ABC, NBC/WSJ, Pew & Battleground avg at 35D-30R. 2008 exit poll was 39R-32R. Polls understate *both*”

    • Sam Champion

      Can someone please explain what Blumenthal’s quote means and whay its implications are? It is a bit cryptic and I am in GOTV mode in NH.

    • Some Body

      @Sam C. – That’s basically a response to the usual Repub. critique of polls, saying they oversample Dems. He’s saying that compared with 2008, both parties are underrepresented (which makes sense, because the number of independents is growing fast). Moreover, you can see that the party ID difference is smaller than in 2008.

      So all the Repubs’ concerns have been “answered” by these polls, but the top results still favour Obama.

  • John

    Here’s my favorite. The “final and definitive” prediction at has Romney at 275 and Obama at 263. In other words, if you stand on your head, tweak the numbers in every partisan way imaginable, and make a few final corrections suggested by your “gut,” Romney wins by an eyelash. Otherwise, not.

    • Bertha

      Thanks, John, that is a good way of putting it.

    • BFR

      Wasn’t he around 400 for Romney a few days ago? That’s some furious backpedaling.

    • JamesInCA

      Or, he can see the writing on the wall and is getting his numbers closer to reality so he looks better at the end.

  • Sam

    Earl Grey.

  • crazeelegs

    I know it isn’t scientific, but this morn when I voted in SC, I noticed shorter lines than in ’08. Many said the same. It is predomoinately GOP. But, here are my thoughts:
    1. People know Mitt will win SC, so they may not show up.
    2. Mitt was not SCs choice–Newt was in the primary–maybe a sign evangelicals are not turning out for Mitt.
    3. Maybe the forecasters & polls have kept many away since they feel that President Obama will win anyway.

    I can’t say it’s a southern trend, but it could help the president in the popular vote and could affect local & state elections. Sandy will keep the popular vote down in NJ & NY for the prez–this may help him in that area. But, of course, the battleground states and the turnout will decide who wins. I just hope that the objective forecasters–not Rove & Co.– will be right–and I believe the trend in the past 2 weeks are right and it will result in President Obama’s win tonight.

  • Khan

    We have our first case of a rigged machine in PA per NBC News. The machine allowed voters select any candidate except Barack Obama. If you selected Obama it voted for Romney. However you could select Stein and it voted for her.

    NBC confirms machine has been removed.

    • MarkS

      It is much more likely (Bayesian prior based on past experience) that the machine was miscalibrated rather than rigged.

    • Khan


      Apparently the calibration was checked, and the only issue with the machine was Obama to Romney vote switching.

    • RobInCT

      Now that the machine has been removed, do we understand the normal failure modes of the machine?

      For example, “calibration” would shift all touch presses by X units, which doesn’t seem to be the case here.

      From that, we should be able to determine whether it’s likely that the failure was due to natural causes or sabotage, right?

    • Mason

      That can still be a calibration issue. Dirty screens, too. They pulled it, cleaned it, recalibrated it, and put it back in service.

  • Bruce Wayne

    I don’t think early voting percentages will tell us much since by definition the numbers are relative.

    That is, a decrease in the percentage of democrats among early voters doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer democrats voting early. It could also mean there are more Republicans voting early compared to four years ago. The republicans are starting to mimic Obama’s 2008 GOTV tactic, so I think the latter scenario is what’s happening.

    So, if for example, a state’s 2008 early voting breakdown was 400,000 D to 100,000 R, democrats would have had 80% edge in the early voting. However, if in 2012, the same numbers are 500,000 democrats to 300,000 republicans, the democrats would only have ~60% of the early votes. So the democrats would see their early voting percentage would drop even though they got more people out to vote.

    Lastly, remember that the winner is determined by the TOTAL number of votes cast. Building an early voting edge doesn’t mean anything if its coming from people who would have otherwise voted on election day. Early voting worked to Obama’s advantage in 2008 because his campaign used the longer time window to get “sporadic” voters to the polls. From what I’ve been hearing, that’s exactly what they are doing this year.

  • Olav Grinde

    I highly recommend Dr Michael McDonald’s 45-minute lecture, given yesterday, in which he interprets early voting results. You can watch it here:

    • Ross C

      Since I anm between GOTV tasks and don’t have 45 minutes, could you plz summarize? Thx

    • Olav Grinde

      Ross, the bit about Ohio starts at 31 minutes.
      (I’ll post more soon.)

    • mediaglyphic

      he is saying that the total vote will be less than in 2008, partly due to sandy.
      early voting will be up vs. 2008. Democrats will hold the lead but not as much as 2008.
      NV/IA arevery high prob obama, Ohio high prob, Colorado med prob obama , Florida is med prob Romney and NC, high prob romney. hence and he kind of says this, OBAMA WINS.

    • Ross C

      Great, thanks.

    • mediaglyphic

      thank you for Getting out the vote!!

  • Khan

    Okay, what is happening in Pennsylvania is very, very scary and disturbing.

    There is mass confusion across the state as the elections offices are putting up signs telling people to have their IDs ready to vote even though it IS NOT THE LAW.

    It’s sickening what’s happening.

    • Sam Champion

      @Some Body, THANK YOU!

    • securecare

      Hmmm, so maybe this is why Romney went to PA the last few days. or maybe it is just the way PA rolls these days.

      We shall see what transpires.

    • SouthernFried

      This is very disturbing to hear. That the GOP has decided they can’t win elections unless they make voting as painful as possible speaks volumes about them. They will steal it.

      I suppose I’d better go and adjust my prediction so as to have Romney winning PA (of course, I figured this would be the case as soon as Sandy hit).

    • BackScatter25

      I got the stinkeye from the old lady working my voting station today when I declined to show her my ID. And she lectured me that “next time I would be REQUIRED” to show it to her.

  • jefflz

    My favorite Tea Leaf equivalent is taking all the predictions of Elcectoral Vote Count from all the poll aggregators and analysts Dr. Wang described in his “Comparison” post. By shaking them up and pouring them out on the table I find that they read from 290 to 332 for Obama – how do you like them Tea Leaves?

  • don in fl

    ? if obama is declared winner tonight will romney give concession speech or wait for more evidence. and there is still an if in a lot of minds.

  • Josie

    Rock paper scissors with a child no more than 8. Using this methodology, the incumbent wins. The child is from New Jersey, so my results may be suspect.

  • siobhan

    thanks to all of you for encouragement, hope and wisdom. forward!

  • mediaglyphic

    ok, early indicator from miami — long lines lots of democrats. this is good news.

    anyone have any updates from CO, NC, OH?

  • twash

    Everyone I know voted and everyone they knew voted. All Dems. Lack of enthusiasm is a crock.

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