As the U.S. presidential race heads into its final weekend, Donald Trump is showing strength in Iowa and Ohio pre-Election Day voting, while Hillary Clinton’s advantage in early balloting looks stronger in North Carolina and Nevada, a Bloomberg Politics analysis shows.
Democrats and Republicans in Florida, the biggest swing state, have returned ballots in nearly even proportions. There have been about 2.9 million votes cast there so far, exceeding the level recorded during the entire early voting period four years ago and with one final weekend of balloting remaining.
Early, in-person voting is nearly complete in many of the battlegrounds states. It ends Friday in Nevada, this weekend in North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, and on Monday in Iowa. Those states, among the main targets for Trump and Clinton, have a total of 74 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. The billionaire businessman needs to win at least four of those states to have a path to victory.
Clinton, in particular, is putting heavy emphasis on early voting, as she seeks to mimic the success of President Barack Obama’s winning 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Republicans have historically shown up in greater numbers on Election Day, and early votes by Democrats can counteract that advantage.
Nationally, more than 37.5 million early votes have already been cast, either by mail or in person, according to Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who runs the U.S. Elections Project, which updates the statistics daily. As much as 40 percent of this year’s vote is expected to be cast before the Nov. 8 election, a proportion that grows every four years as more states and voters embrace the convenience.
The Clinton campaign was trumpeting the early voting numbers, saying they are a “firewall” against Trump. Campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters on a conference call Friday that the Republican is falling behind. “If he hasn’t banked his base by this point, he’s going to have an even taller task in these last few days before the election, without a ground game to turn those voters out,” Mook said.
In Nevada, Mook said Clinton’s campaign estimates that more than 40 percent of registered voters have already cast ballots and that Latinos there and in other battlegrounds are “turning out at dramatically higher rates than in 2012.”
Pointing to Nevada, North Carolina and Florida, Mook said Democratic early voters have already placed Trump in a position less favorable than the one 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney faced on Election Day. “Trump is going to need to outperform Romney on Election Day in all three of states to be successful,” he said.
The disclosure of renewed scrutiny by the FBI of Clinton’s e-mail while she was secretary of state — revealed in a letter to lawmakers last Friday by agency Director James Comey — doesn’t appear to be depressing the early voting of Democrats, or boosting it among Republicans, McDonald said.
“We haven’t seen any drop-off,” he said. “There is no evidence that there has been a shift in the trajectory of early voting based on that letter.”
Based on his analysis of the early vote and polling in Nevada and Colorado, McDonald said those two states “look solid for Clinton at this point,” while he expects Florida, North Carolina and Ohio will be much closer.
Trump has slim advantages in North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio, according to RealClearPolitics poll averages, while Clinton has a slim edge in Florida. Nationally, Clinton was ahead by 2.6 percentage points in the site’s four-way race average Friday following the release of an ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll that had her up by 3 points.
In Ohio, the number of early ballots requested and returned has lagged what they were at the same point in 2012 statewide and in key counties.
The Ohio county where Trump held his national convention in July is presenting the greatest concern for Democrats so far. Clinton needs to generate a large advantage in Cuyahoga, home to Cleveland and a Democratic stronghold that’s the state’s most populous county, to offset Republican votes elsewhere. In 2012, Obama won by 256,613 votes in Cuyahoga, part of a statewide margin of 166,272.
Early-vote requests by Democrats in Cuyahoga County, however, are down 35 percent compared with the same point in 2012, and ballots returned are off by 31 percent, according to data from the county board of elections. Republicans are running slightly ahead.
The voting in Cuyahoga, Republicans say, shows a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton and that spells trouble for her, in part because 30 percent of county residents are black, a key Democratic voting bloc.
Democrats say it’s misleading to compare this year with 2012 because there are five fewer days of early voting. They say in-person and voting by mail numbers are increasing — and there’s still a final weekend of in-person voting, when churches organize “souls to the polls” efforts.
Back to Ohio
Clinton is scheduled to be in Cleveland Friday to join the rapper Jay Z for a get-out-the-vote event. She’s expected to return to the Buckeye State on Sunday for the final day of early in-person voting.
Numbers for Democrats are more encouraging in Columbus and surrounding Franklin County, where ballot returns from Democrats are up 74 percent compared with 36 percent for Republicans from the same point in 2012, the local data shows.
While election-law changes in some states can make comparing numbers this year with 2012 problematic, that isn’t the case in the battleground state of Iowa, where Republicans are closer to being on their pace of four years ago than Democrats.
Republicans in Iowa had cast 174,452 ballots through Wednesday, while Democrats had completed 217,054, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. Both parties are trailing their pace of four years ago, although more so in the case of the Democrats. Republicans have returned 96.9 percent as many ballots when compared to 2012, while Democrats have only completed 89.8 percent.
The proportion of early votes returned by people registered as independent or non-partisan is harder to use for election forecasting. In Iowa, that group has returned 110,975 ballots, down from 135,547 at this point in 2012.
In another potential positive sign for Trump in the state, Republican ballots completed in Iowa’s 4th congressional district are running essentially even with 2012. The district, home to Representative Steve King, is the most conservative in the state. Democratic ballots returned from the area are down, from 46,871 in 2012 to 39,819 now.
In North Carolina, registered Democrats account for almost 43 percent of the 2.3 million early votes cast as of Wednesday, compared with 32 percent for Republicans and 25 percent for unaffiliated voters, according to the state board of elections.
But Democrats are running slightly behind the number of accepted in-person and mail ballots cast at the same point in the 2012 election — in which Obama lost the state to Republican Mitt Romney by 2 percentage points — while Republicans are running 13 percent ahead, according to J. Michael Bitzer, a political-science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Turnout by blacks is also down by 11 percent, compared with an increase of 20 percent for whites, in part because voting changes by the Republican-controlled legislature and governor that limited the number of polling sites during the first week of early voting, Bitzer said.
While black voters are making steady headway in eating into their deficit compared to 2012, early in-person voting ends on Saturday. The question will be whether Democrats shift to getting more black voters to show up on Election Day, he said.
Another variable this year is a 44 percent increase from 2012 so far in early ballots cast by unaffiliated voters, the fasting-growing bloc in the state, Bitzer said. Almost 40 percent of all registered voters under the age of 35 are unaffiliated, he said.
Both Clinton and Trump campaigned in North Carolina on Thursday, and Obama was there on Wednesday, saying the “fate of the world is teetering and you, North Carolina, are going to have to make sure that we push it in the right direction.’’
Republicans say they are pleased with early voting trends. They think Democrats will struggle to match Obama’s performance in early balloting, while they’ll exceed what Romney did four years ago.
“The momentum is definitely with Mr. Trump right now,” Chris Carr, the Republican National Committee’s political director, told reporters earlier this week.