Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching the Vote Totals

Happy Election Day! My American flag is unfurled on the porch and I will be heading over to the Riverdale Elementary School once the morning rush dies down to cast my vote.

Of course, we know now that there is no more “election day.” Almost a third of the ballots have already been cast by early voting. These will not affect tonight’s exit polls: I am assured by George Stephanopoulos at ABC News that the exit polls will include phone polls of those who have already voted. (Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com says that exit polls are unreliable in any event, they lean Democratic, and predicted a big Kerry victory four years ago but that is a different story.) On such matters, no one is smarter than Stephanopoulos.

The early voting may not distort the exit polls but it does already tell us a lot about the final electorate in 2008. In Clark County, Nevada, we know that Democrats account for 52% of the 391,936 ballots already cast and Republicans account for 30.6% with 17.4% other or no affiliation. The total early votes represent 71% of the total 2004 vote in that county and Kerry carried it 52%-46%. So, we can figure out, I think, that Democrats are going to have a big turnout in Clark County and that it will go more heavily for Obama than it did for Kerry. In Florida, we know that of the more than 4 million votes already cast, 45.5% are from Democrats and 37.6% are from Republicans with 16.9% other or no affiliations. This is 53.8% of the total 2004 vote. So turnout is heavy in both states and the increased turnout among Democrats bodes well for Obama’s chances in these two states won by Bush four years ago.

Georgia has the most intriguing early voting data. Already, more than 2 million Georgians have cast their ballots. In 2004, 3.3 millions Georgians voted, so the early vote this year is already 60% of the total vote four years ago. Most significant is the racial breakdown in Georgia. In 2004, according to CNN exit poll, blacks were 25% of Georgia’s electorate while 70% were white. But, in 2008 early voting, only 60% are white and black turnout is 35.1% of early votes. That huge increase among black voters will not be unique to Georgia and you can expect record turnouts that break most pollsters models of “likely voters.” Will it be enough to turn Georgia, a state George W. Bush won by 17 points? I don’t know. But, in states that are less red but still have significant black populations from North Carolina to Indiana, I suspect that Obama will do better than the polls are predicting.

So, what to look for tonight? Polls close in part of Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. EST. But, don’t look for the networks to call Indiana quickly. You may recall that in the primaries, Hillary Clinton had a double digit lead when the early results came in, but the tally from the northwest corner of the state, where the polls close an hour later, narrowed the race considerably and she eked out a one-point victory. At 7 p.m., Virginia closes, a state where Obama has maintained a significant lead and a state where they report their vote early. If the networks call Virginia for Obama within the hour, McCain’s chances will be mighty slim. If McCain pulls off an upset in Virginia, it is going to be a long night. Georgia also closes its polls at 7 p.m. and if that state is not called for McCain within the first half hour, Obama is riding the wave.
So, where will we be this time tomorrow? And, when do you think the networks will call the race? I am predicting Obama will win with 381 electoral votes, as black turnout carries him to victories in swing states North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri, Latinos put New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada in his column, and a better ground game turns the more rural Big Sky states of North Dakota and Montana. And, the race will be called around 9:20 when Colorado is put into the Obama column. Readers are invited to post their predictions!

Michael Sean Winters

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