Who Are the Early Voters? Do We Have Evidence of an Enthusiasm Gap Here?

According to today’s Pollster report, the one millionth early voter cast his or her ballot today. Early voting has been open for awhile in Nevada, California, Texas, George, and now, Iowa and Ohio. Who are early voters? How are they different from the rest of us?

As of 2008, early voters have been disproportionately Democrat-leaning; unfortunately, the excellent United States Election Project doesn’t have data available for prior elections. Overall, in 2008, there was a definite bias in Obama’s favor of about five percentage points from the early voter exit polls to the final November exit polls. This is odd because other data suggests that, at least in 2000 and 2004, early voters were demographically-similar to other voters except that, in 2000 and 2004, they were older and less Democrat-leaning whereas in 2008 and 2010 they were more Democrat-leaning (and also older).

If early voters have only changed over the past six years in the direction of positive Democratic leaning, then the claims of a “Democratic enthusiasm gap” are in serious trouble. Mike McDonald will be reporting demographic data about 2010 early voters as it emerges, but I suspect things are going to get worse for the media fiction of the “enthusiasm gap” before they get better.

When I call the “enthusiasm gap” a fiction, I’m referring to the concept in general, not to the term as it would apply to one election in particular. Data seems to suggest that election outcomes are primarily about the state of the economy and the demographic characteristics of the electorate, with no real evidence of an enthusiasm gap. However, I did fine one paper that found evidence of an enthusiasm gap that arose between primary election voters and general election voters; specifically, voting for Clinton in the 2008 primary had a significant, negative effect on whether or not those voters ended up voting for Obama in the general election. I have problems with this paper I’ll address next time, but the operative point is that I don’t see any particular reason to think the Democrats actually have an enthusiasm gap in 2010.

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