Voters streamed into auditor’s offices across Iowa on Monday, getting their vote in one day before Election Day arrived. Long lines were seen in Polk, Black Hawk, Johnson, Linn and Scott counties. Voters who still had their absentee ballots hopefully brought them into auditor’s offices or planned on taking them to the polls – sending them in at this point means they won’t arrive on time.
The Secretary of State’s office released their usual early vote report Monday afternoon. In 2012 they also gave an update on Election Day, so it’s possible we get one more bit of information on the all-important early vote statistics.
Here’s where we’re at now, compared to this point in 2012:
|Voted Now||Voted Then||Diff|
Barack Obama won Iowa in 2012 by 90,000 votes. Democrats lead in the early vote this year by 42,018. They led in 2012 at this point by 66,527. Considering the early vote made up 43% of the vote in 2012, you can see how Hillary Clinton can still pull off a win in Iowa with these numbers, it would just be very, very close. And from the numbers that Starting Line has seen, Democrats’ early voters are much more likely to be sporadic-voting people (as in, they don’t always turn out) than the Republican early voters.
But the other important thing to consider is the No Party voters. These broke well for Democrats in 2012 in the early vote (Obama won the early vote registration comparison – Democrats to Republicans – by about 66,000, but he won the actual early vote by nearly 90,000. So clearly the No Party voters favored him as well). So to have them only at 86% could be concerning for Democrats.
However, it’s not all great news for Republicans. The Iowa GOP constantly touted their increased focus on the early vote this year. And yet in a cycle where Iowa is becoming more red thanks to Donald Trump on the ballot, they’ve only increased their early vote total by 3,000. Yes, the Democratic advantage has been reduced by about 24,000, and that’s not nothing. But I think they would like to see an even bigger advantage. Republicans may have had a great plan and their field staffers may have done their best, but this is what happens when the Trump campaign doesn’t invest early on to the ground game.
The final result may be determined by how independent voters break, and recent polling doesn’t show that going too well for Democrats.
Another interesting number to look at is the return rates. Democratic insiders played off the very poor early numbers in September by insisting it was all part of a strategy designed at hitting voters at exactly the right time. Collect a bunch of absentee ballot requests early and you risk the voters forgetting they asked for one, making it harder to get those ballots turned in. It seems like that strategy worked out, at least in the return rates.
For comparison’s sake, at this point in 2012 Democrats had a return rate of 90%, Republicans were at 94% and No Party’s at 88%. So both Democrats and No Party returns are better. Even an increase in the return rate by two points is no small matter. 2% of this year’s Democratic numbers is 5,674 votes.
The other big advantage of a better return rate is that your volunteers can focus more on getting people out on Election Day, instead of having to chase down absentee ballots that never come in.
Will the different strategy all even out in the end? Who the hell knows. But here’s the bottom line: Iowa Democrats’ ground game has put Hillary Clinton in a position to win on Election Day. Not by the same margin that Barack Obama did in 2012, not by any means. Swing voters in Eastern Iowa moving to the right may decide the day, but at least there’s a decent chance for a Clinton victory, despite the dour polls.
Now let’s take one last look at the legislative districts. Here’s how early voting finished in the senate districts:
|District||Senator/Rep||Ds Voted||Rs Voted||Diff|
Mathis and Danielson maintain their huge, likely insurmountable lead in voting in their districts. Gronstal still leads by a good amount in his, while the other competitive districts are likely too close for comfort.
Tons of volunteer efforts have been sent into the swing legislative districts for the final push. Here’s how much the Democratic early vote advantage changed in each district from Friday to today:
Republicans must have collected a lot of ballots in Schoenjahn’s district, causing Schoenjahn to really backslide on his early vote advantage, likely adding to the fears that this is one Democrats will lose tonight. But Democrats mostly held steady in many of their other key districts, and even picked up a few more in Sodders’ race.
Now to the House, where things are a little more interesting:
|District||Senator/Rep||Ds Voted||Rs Voted||Diff|
Konfrst maintains her huge early vote lead – it’s increasingly likely that Majority Leader Hagenow’s time in the Iowa House comes to an end tonight. The numbers are looking particularly good for Donahue and Kean as well, while Celsi should get a boost from early voting Democrats as well.
For the Republican pick-up districts, Ruff will be a far easier target than the Stetcher/Dunkel open seat in rural Dubuque. Ruff won in 2012 despite being down in the early vote registration numbers, but a 627 disadvantage may be too much to overcome. Northeast Iowa is very swingy, and it’s not entirely clear which way it’s going with Trump, but this corner of Iowa isn’t looking good for Democrats this year.
Here’s how things changed since Friday:
Republicans really boosted their numbers in their redder suburban districts, like Ankeny and Johnston. But in the more swing suburban areas, like Marion and West Des Moines, Democrats built upon their already-solid leads, no easy task in the final days.
Again, Republicans must have been busy in the Northeast corner of Iowa, where they saw big gains in both House districts there. Ryan Drew also lost some ground in his bid for a surprise upset win in Southeast Iowa – had there been enough funds to go around and some extra staff, you might have seen a Democratic ground game build a bigger early vote lead here.
If there’s another early vote update from the Secretary of State, I’ll update this post later in the day. Otherwise, make sure to tune into WOI/ABC 5 tonight – I’ll be giving analysis on the Statehouse races from 9:45 to 10:45.
by Pat Rynard
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