Most polls have 400 respondents. Some have 600 or 800, some even have as many as 2,000. What if I told you that there was a real live poll of Georgia voters out there that had nearly 1.9 MILLION respondents with a margin of error of 0.0? Of course I’m talking about the detailed statistics available about early and absentee voters that the secretary of state releases. A little context is in order.
In 2008, Georgia led the nation in early voting, with a 45 day window that allowed many first time voters to take part. African American voters particularly took part – making up 34.1% of all early voters – which led to a record breaking total (including election day) of 30%, propelling Obama to 47% here and putting Jim Martin and Jim Powell into runoffs. That year, white voters made up 61% of early voters, but saw their total numbers increase with a strong election day showing.
So – this year – we only had three weeks of early voting and one mandatory Saturday. But Georgians packed in nearly as many votes. With two mail days left for absentee votes to come in, we’re at 88% of 2008’s total. African American voters make up at least 33.6% of early voters (compared to 34.1% four years ago) while white voters make up only 59.4% (down from 61%). The biggest change is the unknown voters – they have grown from 2.6% in 2008 to 4.8% this year.
Let’s dig a little more under the hood – overall most early voters are return voters. 82% voted in the last election and 68% voted in the 2010 governor’s race. But importantly for Democratic futures in this state, new voters are most likely to be non-white. Only 15% of white voters didn’t vote in the last Presidential race, and only 27% didn’t vote in 2010. For African Americans, that grows to 17/33. For Hispanics, 36% of early voters didn’t vote in 2008, and 57% didn’t vote in 2010. For the unknown voters – the fastest growing bloc in Georgia, an amazing 41% didn’t vote in 2008 and 51% didn’t vote in 2010.
Clearly, early voting is giving opportunities to the new voters who will one day change the electorate. There’s a reason Republicans are pushing for 2/3 majorities in the legislature – demographically speaking this year is their last chance they’ll ever have, and if these numbers hold, they don’t even really have that great of a chance this year.
Finally, I’m going out on a limb and predicting a big turnout of African American voters on election day as well. And before you say I’m crazy, consider that while in 2008 African Americans built a huge turnout in early voting that tapered off as early voting ended and dwindled on election day, in 2010 the group closed strong and actually made up a bigger share of the election day turnout than early voters. And the same thing happened this year. The final Friday of early voting saw an African American turnout of greater than 35%. While this most likely isn’t enough to close the gap in Georgia, I would caution my Republican friends that if this is happening in the non swing state of Georgia, it’s definitely happening in places like Ohio and Virginia. I believe election day turnout will more closely mirror the registered voter numbers than the conservative likely voter estimates that many pollster rely on.
And for Georgia based consultants of both parties – with these numbers, this is probably the final year that Georgia won’t be a swing state. Bring on 2016!