With at least 37 million votes cast as of Friday, early and absentee voting data offers a preview of the demographic landscape of the electorate just four days before polls close across the country in the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
According to early voting data, Mrs. Clinton may be benefitting from a steady or even slight increase in Hispanic early vote compared with 2012. At the same time, she is underperforming President Barack Obama’s support among African-Africans in the early numbers—a cause for concern among many of her supporters that a key part of the coalition that twice elected Mr. Obama may stay home on Election Day.
For Mr. Trump, there is little sign that the GOP nominee is remaking the electorate by turning out vast numbers of new working-class white voters who previously did not participate in presidential elections, though his campaign is seeing positive signs in the early voting data from several states in the Midwest.
Early and absentee voting has exploded in popularity in recent years, as Election Day has shifted from a single day in November to a weeks-long and sometimes months-long period where voters can choose from many options to cast their ballots including by mail, at early voting sites or at Election Day polling places.
Many states release the party registration information of the voters who have been requesting and returning absentee ballots or have voted in-person, though the votes themselves are secret and are often not counted until Election Day. Early voting data gives an incomplete picture of the electorate—the numbers do not take into account the behavior of independent voters who remain a significant chunk of the electorate, nor can they account for voters who are registered with one party but cast ballots for the candidate of another party.
But early vote can provide some clues into the composition of the voting population, the enthusiasm for a candidate and organizational ability of a political campaign in turning out its supporters.
This analysis of early voting data was compiled by multiple sources. First, the nonpartisan U.S. Election Project in partnership with the Associated Press aggregates all the early voting data from across the country as released by some states and local governments. The data firm Catalist, which works with Democratic campaigns, provided comparative data for three western states. Finally, the Republican National Committee and Clinton campaign have been highlighting their strengths in early and absentee voting numbers by state.
Across the country, at least 1 million more Democrats have returned ballots than Republicans in the data released so far. In states like Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee, early turnout has already surpassed 2012 levels. In many others, early or absentee voting turnout is set to surpass totals during the last presidential election.
In Arizona, where the Clinton campaign is making a late play, the Hispanic share of the early and absentee vote has increased since 2012. Catalist’s modeling shows that Latino early turnout has surged to 13.2% of the electorate as of Tuesday. That is up from about 11% at the same point in 2012, and up from about 8% at the same point in 2008.
The Clinton campaign is also seeing steady Hispanic early voting participation in Colorado and Nevada. In Nevada, 7.6% of all early ballots mailed in or cast in person have been by Hispanic or Latino voters, according to Catalist.
In the same three states, Catalist data shows that the white share of the electorate has declined since 2012 in all three states—undercutting Mr. Trump’s contention that he is remaking the electorate by bringing new voters into the fold. Polls show Mr. Trump trailing badly among nonwhite voters.
What isn’t clear in those states is whether the Clinton campaign has attracted new Hispanic supporters or whether it has simply convinced more Hispanic voters to cast their ballots early rather than on Election Day.
While Mrs. Clinton is seeing positive signs in a number of key Western states, there are also signs that black turnout may be down slightly in Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. Black early vote turnout is down 7% in both Florida and North Carolina compared to the same point in 2012. The Clinton campaign never expected to match or exceed Mr. Obama’s turnout among black voters who were intensively supportive of him.
Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said that rules in some states, notably North Carolina, have changed since 2012 and limited early voting options for many of the campaign’s supporters.
Cutting back the number of early voting sites “harmed our ability to be as effective as we could be in getting African American early vote in,” said Ms. Palmieri.
“We feel this is a big priority that you should expect us to continue to spend a lot of time on,” she said about turning out black voters in the final sprint. “We’ve invested a lot of resources, both with money and the candidate and our surrogates’ time.”
In Ohio, many Republican counties have been either over-performing or staying steady with their 2012 numbers. In two key Democratic counties, Franklin and Cuyahoga, overall early vote appears to have been lagging — though some data suggests that Democrats appear to be making up ground in the final days before the election.
By contrast, in three Republican-learning counties, early ballots appear to be up. Marion County, which was carried by Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, ballot returns are up 25%, while in Warren County the early vote is up 15%.
In Iowa, early votes received from Democrats are down by about 24,000 compared with 2012. The ballots already cast by Republicans in the state are slightly down as well, about 3,000 compared with 2012 as well. The 2012 and 2016 numbers were reported as of the Thursday before Election Day.
Both parties are now in the midst of a massive turnout effort to cajole their supporters to the polls. Mrs. Clinton’s travel schedule has been almost entirely focused around motivating supporters in states with early vote.
As Election Day nears, the campaign is focusing on states that have limited absentee voting and no early voting such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Mr. Obama will visit New Hampshire for a last-minute rally on Monday, while Mrs. Clinton is visiting Michigan and Pennsylvania on Friday.
Mr. Trump’s campaign too has expressed confidence about the early voting turnout operation the Republican National Committee has put together.
“The RNC ground game has also done an incredible job of contacting voters and getting them to the polls early to vote for Donald Trump,” said Trump campaign manager David Bossie last week. “We know that early voting can help us compete right from the outset and capitalize on the enthusiasm that many voters have for Donald Trump.”