Decision 2019 – “Halftime Report” for Runoff Early Voting in Louisiana

We have now passed the midway point for in person early voting for the November 16 runoff – four days’ worth of early voting are in the rear view mirror, with three more days (today/Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) to go. What has four days of early voting told us?

(Close to) record early voting turnout

For the first three days of early voting, runoff early voting actually outpaced the 2016 Presidential contest (which holds the all time record for early voting volume at 531,124). But while the daily numbers for the runoff fell behind the Presidential race last night, turnout remains strong and (more importantly) well ahead 41% higher than it was in the primary. To illustrate, these are the four day figures for those other two races:

  • 2019 runoff: 295,203 (208,875 in the primary)
  • 2016 President: 301,011

Strong Democratic turnout

After four days of early voting in the primary, the electorate was 74-24% white/black and 43-42.5% Democrat/Republican. As of last night, the early voting electorate was 68-30% white/black and 46-39% Democrat/Republican. While this is certainly a strong performance (percentage-wise) for black early voting, Republican turnout remains relatively high as well. In other words, this is a clear case of both party’s bases being motivated to vote – that motivation helps when either party targets them as part of a “get out the vote” effort, and that motivation is resulting in near record turnout.

To what extent does this surge in black turnout benefit Governor Edwards? Intelligently answering this question requires a deeper examination of the component parts. Because while the black share of the electorate increased 6% relative to the primary, the Republican share only decreased 3%. The remainder of the decrease came from lower turnout (percentage-wise) from white Democrats and white Independents. And since Governor Edwards has been running strongly among white Democrats (60-37% in the last poll JMC conducted and publicly released) and relatively strongly among white Independents (he trails 38-56% in the last poll), the incremental benefit to his campaign isn’t as much as it would seem, because the Republican percentage of the electorate remained relatively high, and among this group, Governor Edwards trails 17-79%.

So in practical terms, a decrease in white Democrats/white Independents (combined with a relatively high Republican early vote) means that an Edwards poll lead of 50-47% over Rispone would become 49-47% Edwards/Rispone if the original poll results were recalculated to reflect the first four days of early voting.

Given that black turnout has surprisingly remained high throughout the week (it typically plunges during weekdays), the remaining question is the extent of the “surge” at the end of early voting; in JMC’s experience, black/Democratic early voting tends to be heaviest on Saturdays (as opposed to the weekdays).

JMC’s projections of early voting volume, overall turnout

Projecting turnout is a constantly moving target throughout early voting week, but since early voting has been in existence in Louisiana for more than a decade, JMC has established (and continuously refined) a model that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout, even considering that this predictive model got slightly more complex in 2017 with mail in ballots’ starting to be automatically being mailed out to those 65 years old or over.

So when (1) you consider the “spike” in mail in ballots that artificially inflates the numbers a bit, and (2) you realize that the heavy early voting WAS a harbinger of higher primary turnout (even with some “front loading” of the numbers), JMC remains of the opinion that there will be a combination both of “front loading” AND of higher turnout like there was in the primary. In practical terms, this means the following (remember – these projections do NOT remain static as additional data comes in on a daily basis):

  • Early voting as a percentage of the final vote will likely go from 28 to 33% of the total;
  • Projected early/absentee vote: 510K
  • Projected turnout volume: 1560K
  • Projected turnout percentage: 52%

In Conclusion

Why does early voting matter? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting more than a decade ago, you now have a noticeable constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has for nine times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, 2016 Presidential elections, December 2016 runoff, October 2017 primary, November 2017 runoff, November 2018 primary, December 2018 runoff, and October 2019 primary) exceeded 20%. A politician would be foolish to ignore this many “up front” 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.