Looking for signals from voters with one week to go

Looking for signals from voters with one week to go
Voters are lined up outside the Washington County Election Center in Hagerstown, Md., Monday morning, Oct. 26, 2020, on the first day of in-person early voting. (Colleen McGrath/The Herald-Mail via AP) (Colleen McGrath)

With just seven days left until Election Day, a record number of Americans have already voted, but the decisions of millions of other voters will determine which way the White House and the Congress go in the 2020 elections.

With an immense amount of data already available - both in terms of polling and early voting - there are a lot of clues already on the campaign trail.

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But figuring out what they mean before we see the final results may prove trickier than usual, after the most bizarre national campaign in American history.

Here’s some of what we’ve seen:

+ A lot of people have voted early. Over 60 million people have already voted, as 32 states and the District of Columbia have already exceeded their 2016 early vote totals. The Coronavirus outbreak resulted in many states making it easier to vote early - whether in person or by mail - and millions of Americans are taking advantage. Figures provided by University of Florida elections expert Michael McDonald show a number of states with huge turnout when compared to their total votes in 2016. (This is not a comparison of early voting to early voting.) Texas is over 80 percent already of its 2016 total turnout. Here are the top ten states in that category.

Texas - 82.2%

Montana - 70.1%

North Carolina - 66.5%

Georgia - 66.1%

Tennessee - 65%

Florida - 62.8%

New Mexico - 60.9%

Washington State - 60%

Nevada - 59.4%

Vermont - 59.3%

+ Wait a second. Why is Texas #1? To me at least, this is the central unanswered question in the 2020 campaign with one week to go. Most people would probably assume that Texas is going to President Trump, no matter what. But then how do we explain such strong voter turnout when compared to the vote totals of 2016? Why are Texans turning out at much higher rates? The suburban areas already showed a shift to the Democrats in 2016 and especially in 2018. A further shift in 2020 could not only mean changes in the race for President, but also in Congress as well in the Lone Star State.

+ What about those who have voted early for President? We are seeing these type of numbers repeated in a number of states. President Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting have pushed Republicans to switch away from what was one of their natural strengths - voting by mail. Instead, Democrats are now voting by mail in larger numbers. That’s fine if your GOP voters still get to the polls in person, either before or on Election Day. But if they don’t - then it’s a problem.

+ Young voters are coming out in very large numbers. Part of the reason for the surge in voting in Texas is that younger voters - under the age of 30 - have turned out in much larger numbers than usual for early voting. And many of those voters either did not vote in 2016, or have never voted before. You can ask yourself who you think first time voters would be more likely to back in 2020.

+ Voters who did not vote in 2016, part 2. In Georgia, there is clearly a large group of people voting who did not vote in 2016 - whether because they weren’t old enough, or they just did not vote. The latest data at http://georgiavotes.com/ shows 24.7 percent of those voting early in 2020 did not vote in 2016. About 28 percent of those voters are under 30 in Georgia. The next biggest chunk - 21 percent - are between 50 and 64 years old. More than a majority are women voters. Draw your own conclusions.

+ Tar Heel State Turnout. North Carolina is another state where a lot of people are voting early, with over 3.1 million ballots returned as of Tuesday morning. Democrats have the edge right now - but what’s really interesting is the high level of ‘unaffiliated’ voters - who have cast almost as many ballots as Republicans in North Carolina. The winner of the election is usually the winner of the independent vote.

+ But what about the Presidential race? You won’t see any predictions here. The experts think this race is more stable than four years ago, but my advice is to wait until we see actual numbers and election returns. But it’s still fun to go through the early vote and figure out where things stand, and try to come up with questions as to why the numbers are coming out this way. Here’s the view of one elections expert.

We will know in a week what happens.