Democrats Outnumber Republicans In Early Voting
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The rise of early voting is transforming the final weeks before the presidential election. More than five million people have already voted, and estimates suggest a record one-third of the electorate may cast ballots before November 4th. NPR's Libby Lewis reports on the demographics of early voters.
LIBBY LEWIS: Who's voting early? In most states, more Democrats then Republicans are. That means they're either voting in person at the polls, or they're voting with a mail in absentee ballot. In the past, more Republicans have tended to vote early. And this time, voters are voting in higher numbers than typical for this point in the election cycle.
Michael McDonald is a voting expert at George Mason University. He's analyzing the numbers from some states. He says, traditionally, early voting is like a spicket being turned on, one that starts out with a trickle that builds as election day grows closer.
Dr. MICHAEL MCDONALD (Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University): This year, we're seeing almost like a spurt at the very beginning, like there was some sort of pressure in that pipe. And as soon as that valve turned on, we've got a flush of early voters coming out to vote.
LEWIS: A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,500 registered voters conducted October 16th to 19th found 31 percent of those interviewed said they plan to vote before Election Day. In most states, Democrats are driving those numbers. In North Carolina, for instance, Democrats constituted 56 percent of in person early voters so far. In Iowa, it's 51 percent.
A lot of factors are driving these early voters, the experts say. The Pew survey shows that younger people and older people say they're more likely to vote early. Frances Madigan (ph) voted Tuesday at the Boca Raton Community Center in Boca Raton, Florida. Like many here, she is an older voter. She didn't share her party affiliation or who she voted for.
Ms. FRANCES MADIGAN: I just felt that I was ready, and I couldn't be more ready.
LEWIS: And it's easier to vote early now. More than 30 states allow voters to cast ballots early without requiring an excuse. Convenience figures in. Andy Kohut directs the Pew Research Center.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center): You know, one of the most important things is that in states like Oregon, people are voting by mail. In fact, 54 percent of the people in the western region in our poll said, Well, of course I'm voting early.
LEWIS: But Kohut and McDonald say there's another significant factor here. Call it pent up demand by Democrat Barack Obama supporters.
Mr. KOHUT: The Obama supporters are just so enthusiastic. They're chomping on the bit, so to speak. So, in effect, while 31 percent of voters overall said they're going to vote early, 41 percent of Liberal Democrats say they're going to vote early. And I don't think that's only geography or generation going on. I think it's a bit of the Obama mania on people who plan to vote for him.
LEWIS: Count Joy Armstrong in that category. She waited in line the first day of early voting in Charlotte, North Carolina so that she could work for Obama for the next two weeks.
Ms. JOY ARMSTRONG: I waited almost 50 years to vote for someone black who's candidate, a black candidate for president who's really qualified, and I would not miss this opportunity, even if I had to wait for two days.
LEWIS: The Obama campaign has been pushing early voting to its supporters hard. The McCain campaign volunteers are canvassing neighborhoods and sending out mailings to boost early voting. Does it make a difference though? Kohut says it can.
Mr. KOHUT: If there's a last-minute trend either furthering Obama's margin or bringing McCain back, a goodly share of the electorate may miss it.
LEWIS: McDonald says that helps explain why GOP candidate John McCain is so focused on Pennsylvania. Most Pennsylvanians won't vote until election day. That's 12 whole days. Libby Lewis, NPR News.
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