1,455 days have passed since Election Day, 2016, meaning our countdown to the 2020 election has only hours remaining. Meanwhile, more than 94 million Americans have already recorded their votes in this historic election. It’s conceivable that the overall early vote will exceed 100 million votes, when all is said and done, more than doubling the historic high set in the 2016 election.
So what can we learn from this massive universe of early voters? A lot, as it turns out. The table has been set for Election Day, and we have a good idea of the final challenge laying in front of the Biden and Trump campaigns.
Let’s look at some key questions.
Perhaps most remarkably, almost 29% of early votes have been cast by those voters who didn’t cast a ballot in the 2016 election. That’s literally tens of millions of voters, all driving change in this electorate relative to that which sent Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.
I’ll dig into the demographics more below as we consider how this surge in turnout is impacting the election. But broadly, the biggest surges in turnout are coming from Asian American voters, who have exceeded their total 2016 vote in every single southern and sunbelt presidential battleground state already. We are also seeing massive surges from Latino, African-American, and white college-educated voters, as well as women, broadly, especially unmarried women. And, building on their massive turnout in the 2018 midterms, younger voters are turning out at impressive levels, and are more likely to vote on Election Day than older Democrats.
Start with the caveat that no one knows. We know if someone has voted, not how. But with a combination of demographic data, party registration, and modeled partisanship, we can gather a broad sense of which party is likely faring better in the early vote. From that perspective, perhaps not surprisingly giving the amount of corroborating data we’ve seen from polling, Democrats have clearly built a fairly significant advantage among these early votes.
Consider this data regarding the current early vote electorate as compared to the final overall 2016 electorate in presidential battleground states:
- Latino voters account for 8.7% of the early vote, as compared to 6.9% of the total ’16 turnout
- African-American voters are at 10.6% of ballots cast, compared to 10.1% in ‘16
- Asian American voters are at 1.8%, while they accounted for 1.2% of 2016’s total vote
- White college-educated voters are at 30.1% of the early vote, far above the 25.2% final vote share from ‘16
Clearly Latino, African-American, and Asian American voters will provide the Biden-Harris ticket with wide margins of support. But even white college-educated voters have trended strongly Democratic, and their early turnout surge has to be considered a positive sign for Democrats.
Meanwhile, all of these increases have come exclusively at the expense of the white non-college-educated voter share, dropping astoundingly low, from 54.1% in the final 2016 vote to 45.6% in the early vote. In raw numbers, the total white non-college vote lags behind 2016’s benchmark by 12.5 million votes.
Election Day Outlook
Trump will start Election Day with a massive, but not insurmountable deficit of votes.
Turnout will certainly surpass the 2016 benchmark of 138 million votes by a substantial margin, perhaps 20 million additional votes. This suggests that Trump may have to close a gap of 15 million votes.
Now, here’s where it gets complicated. We have to keep in mind two additional key factors:
- Simply reaching 2016 benchmarks in terms of composition of the electorate will likely not be enough to produce a Trump win.
- Democrats aren’t done voting yet and will come out on Election Day.
Digging a little deeper – on the first point, national and state level polling has demonstrated that President Trump consistently fares worse with key groups than he did in 2016. He trails with Independents, a group he won in ’16. As noted above, white college-educated voters have fled the GOP, especially among suburban enclaves. Joe Biden has also made inroads with seniors and even white non-college voters. This all would suggest that, in order to emerge victorious tomorrow, Donald Trump will need turnout from his base to reach such high levels, that their electoral shares exceed 2016 levels. That means the gap he is facing is likely larger than the 15 million votes in battleground states noted above.
To the second point, the math doesn’t work out as such that Trump needs to simply turn out 15 million supporters on Election Day. As many as 60 million additional votes will be cast on that day, perhaps more. While it is reasonable to assume Republicans are more likely to have been waiting for Election Day to cast their ballot, as many as a third of Democrats have suggested they plan to do the same.