More than 46 million votes have been cast in advance of U.S. Election Day, breaking records in state after state and suggesting the prospect of a heightened Hispanic turnout that could upend politics in several battleground states.
While there’s no way to know whether Hillary Clinton (Democrat) or Donald Trump (Republican) is ahead, the available data about who has voted so far, and where, provides some insight into what the results might hold. There are signs of an unusually diverse electorate, marked by robust Hispanic numbers in places like Florida and Nevada. Women seem to have turned out in disproportionately high numbers in some states. In others, Republicans appear to have made late gains.
Here are five storylines that have emerged from the early voting period:
A Latino turnout surge
Democrats had been muddling through the early voting periods in Nevada and Florida. Then in the final days, black and Latino voters flooded polling places, fueling Democratic optimism in both states.
“Just since last week, the percentage of the electorate that’s white has gone from 71 then over the last few days from 68.6 to 68.0, to 67.4, to 68.8,” Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale wrote in an early vote analysis on Monday. “Since Thursday, there has been no day when the electorate has been more than 61% white. This is the Clinton recipe for winning.”
Through last Wednesday, according to University of Florida early vote expert Daniel Smith, more than 429,000 Hispanic voters had cast ballots at in-person voting locations. That’s a 158 percent increase from the same period four years earlier.
And Nevada – once considered one of the most Trump-friendly of the battleground states – may be out of reach for Republicans on Election Day. Surging Latino turnout in populous Clark County – where some polls stayed open hours passed their closing time to let voters in line finish casting ballots – helped drive up the Democratic vote margin over the weekend, if Trump is doing as poorly among Latinos as some polls suggest. That Clark County scene prompted an angry rebuke from state GOP chairman Michael McDonald at a Trump rally Saturday. McDonald, opening for Trump, said the polls were kept open late “so a certain group could vote.”
The African American vote in North Carolina is a different story. There, analysts say that black voters have been disproportionately affected by restrictions on early voting and a tightened early vote schedule. Still, black voters managed to narrow the disparity with 2012 turnout in the final days of the race, comprising increasingly bigger shares of the total ballots each day.
An uptick in unaffiliateds
It’s a nearly universal trend.
Unaffiliated voters made up a greater and greater share of the early electorate across the country — in particular in North Carolina and Florida, in an election where the nominees of both major parties face sky-high unfavorable ratings. In North Carolina, through Thursday, a quarter of the votes cast were from unaffiliated voters, up more than 40 percent over 2012 totals at the same time, according to data posted Sunday by Michael Bitzer, an expert on the early vote at Catawba College.
In Florida, according to Schale’s number-crunching, voters without party affiliation made up about 22 percent of the vote through Monday morning. That’s about 1.4 million votes.
While that development makes it harder to divine which candidate is leading, Michael McDonald, an early vote expert who runs the U.S. Elections Project, said there are signs that Clinton stands to gain at least some from unaffiliated voters. Many of them, he noted, are younger and members of minority communities — constituencies that lean left.
“In Florida, part of this has to do with age,” McDonald said. “Younger people tend not to affiliate with a party. In Florida, Latinos tend not to affiliate with a political party.”
In North Carolina, a surge of white women hitting the polls has included many who don’t affiliate with either party, a potentially worrisome sign for Trump, who faces an enormous gender gap.
A New York Times Upshot/Siena analysis found Clinton leading with unaffiliated voters in North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania.
“You can look at these demographics of these folks, I can tell you for sure it’s not a surge of older white men making up the unaffiliated,” McDonald said. “In comparison to 2012, there’s more white women than white men among unaffiliateds, and African-Americans, there are some, and other persons of color. Don’t think of these as monolithically white males, that’s wrong, don’t think of them as independents, because independents tend to break more Republican than unaffiliateds.”
“This now adds a big monkey wrench into trying to do the forecasting,” he said, “Which way are the unaffiliateds going to go?”
Republicans came alive near the end
It might be too little too late to change the electoral calculus, but the GOP has shown late signs of life in states expected to go to Hillary Clinton. They’ve overtaken Democrats in Colorado. They were ahead of pace in North Carolina and limited Democrats’ advantage in Florida from a greater 2012 edge.
In other words, last month’s bombshell FBI decision to reopen the review of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information appeared to have stoked more Republican enthusiasm—or at a minimum, coaxed some reluctant Republicans to rally behind their nominee. And FBI Director James Comey’s Sunday announcement that he stands by his decision not to bring charges against her came too late to change the early vote math.
In Colorado, where Republicans were expected to hold an early voting lead as they did in 2012, Democrats consistently held an edge over Republicans until this past weekend. Democrats began last week with a 31,000 vote lead in ballots returned but by Monday morning, Republicans had surged ahead by 7,000.
In Iowa, Democrats had been building their early vote lead as well, clawing their way a bit closer to their 2012 edge of 68,000 votes. But over the last week, that growth stopped abruptly. Last Monday, Democrats led by about 43,300 in votes returned. By the day before Election Day, that edge had shrunk slightly to 41,900.
Women are dominating the early vote
Up and down the Eastern seaboard, women are voting at disproportionately high rates, and are outperforming their 2012 turnout numbers. Close observers of the vote in places like North Carolina, Georgia and Florida believe that many of the women voting early are supporting Clinton — or at a minimum, opposing Trump, who confronts a yawning gender gap.
In Florida, according to numbers provided by the University of Florida’s Daniel Smith, women comprise about 52.8 percent of the electorate, but 56.5 percent of the population that’s voted by mail, and 53 percent of the early in-person vote. Overall, they’ve contributed about 55 percent of the state’s early vote as of Thursday.
Florida has expanded its access both to voting by mail and, in many counties, in-person early voting since 2012, but by both measures the female vote is up. By comparison, 45 percent of the early in-person vote comes from men, and 42 percent of the mail ballots are from men, both slight downticks from 2012.
“If we take a closer look, where we’re really seeing women overperforming is among Democrats and no-party affiliateds,” Smith said. “I think that’s largely a function of the Trump effect. If there’s anyone who’s energized by not having Donald Trump be president, it’s women and minorities, especially Hispanics. I think that’s where we’re seeing the real bump from 2012 in participation.”
White women are also voting at higher rates in states like Georgia and North Carolina, McDonald said.
In North Carolina, which has especially good data available, there were 55,050 more women overall who had voted five days out from Election Day than there were in 2012, he said. As of Sunday, votes from women made up 55 percent of all votes cast so far in North Carolina, according to Catawba College’s Bitzer. Of that total, 46 percent were registered Democrats, 30 percent were registered Republicans and 24 percent were unaffiliated.
The Democratic female vote total was expected to continue to rise as Democrats sought to compensate for restrictions on early voting that, experts say, disproportionately affected more liberal-leaning areas.
There is also good news for Republicans: As of Thursday morning, there were 44,578 more Republican women than in 2012, while the Democratic number was around 6,900.
As for unaffiliated women in North Carolina, there were around 90,000 more than the number who voted in 2012 as of Thursday.
2012 déjà vu
The shape of the 2016 early vote has more than a passing resemblance to 2012. That’s good news for Democrats but bad news for anyone — including Trump — who expected a dramatic reordering of the electoral vote landscape.
“The map looks a lot similar to 2012 and if Trump’s going to pin his hopes on the election, it’s got to be that he’s got a large number of Democrats voting for him,” said McDonald of the U.S. Elections Project.
That’s because early voting patterns in states like Florida and Nevada — both of which Obama won in 2012 — resemble those of four years earlier.
This time around, Democrats held a crushing 73,000 vote lead in Nevada’s Clark County – the heavily Democratic population center that includes Las Vegas — when early voting concluded. That’s greater than Obama’s 2012 edge there, a huge cushion against modest GOP leads in the more rural areas of the state.
Even Florida, the quintessential swing state, is returning to form. After two weeks of early voting (which ends this Sunday) and more than 6.4 million votes cast, Democrats barreled past Republicans in early votes over the weekend and ended with a lead of just over 1 percentage point. Schale noted that his own model predicting the state’s raw vote count recently produced a dead tie.
Like Florida, Ohio is close, and still a mystery. While Trump has held a modest but consistent lead there in polls, an overhaul of the early voting schedule — and Ohio’s lack of traditional party registration methods — prevents a clear comparison with 2012. Democratic turnout slipped in crucial strongholds like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, giving hope to Republicans who say Clinton lacks enthusiasm in the crucial swing state.
But Democrats note that Ohio has eliminated “Golden Week,” an early vote period that allowed residents to register and cast ballots at the same time. That may have pushed more reliably Democratic voters to turn out later, they argue. And by the end of the day Monday, early voting in Ohio eclipsed by 11,000 the total early vote in 2012. In all, 1.8 million ballots have been cast, and Democrats say they’ve made up ground they lost in Cuyahoga with a surge in voting in Franklin County, which includes Columbus.
In North Carolina, Democrats are nervous that flagging African American turnout could keep the state in the Republican column for the second straight presidential election. Clinton has consistently led by narrow margins in most polls of the state, but African American early vote turnout fell nearly 9 percent off its 2012 pace.
Clinton allies argue that’s a direct result of efforts to limit early voting opportunities in the state’s urban areas – McDonald says North Carolina is the only Southern state keeping track that saw a decline in African American participation.
In Iowa, one of Trump’s stronger battleground states, Democrats have nudged their totals a little closer to their early vote margins in 2012, when Obama carried the state. Democrats led the early vote turnout by about 42,000 votes as of Sunday morning — down from a 68,000 vote edge they had heading into Election Day 2012 but one that has tracked steadily upward since mid-October until plateauing last week.