March 24 is the date of Louisiana’s Presidential primary. While there are some local races on the ballot as well, we are limiting our discussion to the Republican Presidential race, as President Obama has minor opposition in the Democratic primary (three opponents qualified in Louisiana to oppose him).
Early voting for this primary started yesterday and will continue until next Saturday (mail in ballots will still be accepted up until the day before Election Day). From examining early voting statistics provided to us by the Secretary of State, there are two things we noticed:
Low turnout numerically, but better than 2008
Yesterday’s turnout was 10,578, of whom 4,389 were Republicans. What does this early voting volume mean? Given the fact that the first day of early voting is typically the busiest day, we project at the present time that by Election Day, there will be about 25K early votes. When you compare this number against the 9,200 who early voted in the 2008 Republican Presidential primary, it appears that voter turnout would be nearly three times what it was in 2008.
However, it is unlikely that Republican turnout will be triple the 2008 count, because in person early voting is a relatively recent concept in Louisiana (before the law was changed, you could only vote absentee before Election Day under certain circumstances). In the 2008 primary, 6% of the Republican primary vote was cast early. Since early voting has become more popular over time (16% of those voting in the 2011 statewide elections voted early), we think at the present time that voter turnout will be between 16 and 32%, or a turnout of between 125-251K Republicans (for comparison’s sake, 161K voted for the Republican candidate in the 2008 primary)
As part of our analysis of the early vote, we looked at where (i.e., which parishes) the early votes were coming from. In 2008, Mike Huckabee narrowly defeated John McCain 43-42%. His victory was achieved by running up large margins in the more rural areas outside of the Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Lafayette media markets. In fact, the parishes he carried only represented 45% of the total vote cast and 47% of the early vote cast. Yesterday’s early voting numbers showed that 57% of the early vote cast came from the “Huckabee parishes.” Since the evangelical voters who supported Huckabee in 2008 are more likely to vote for Santorum than Gingrich (or even Romney), we see the distribution of early votes as a signal that Santorum may run strongly here on March 24. Below is a graphical depiction of the 2008 vote by parish in the Republican primary.
We will be recalibrating our turnout predictions as the week goes on, because we know from historical data that early voting for the next six days will be lower than yesterday’s figures, but the extent to which there will be a “plunge” is not yet known.
Why do we make a big deal about early voting? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting several years ago, you now have a noticeable constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has thus far ranged from 6 to 16% – a politician would be foolish to ignore this many voters, especially in a closely contested race. Also, too, early voting numbers are the first ones that are typically reported after polls have closed at 8 PM.