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What early voting can (and can't) tell us about the election

Adapted from TargetSmart. (Battleground states include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.) Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Democratic strategists think the early numbers show a 2020 electorate that's bigger, younger and more diverse than in 2016 — and not just shifting forward votes that would have otherwise arrived on Election Day.

The big picture: Early voting data signals strong Democratic enthusiasm in key battleground states. But strategists in both parties say Republicans could still overtake that advantage with a surge of in-person turnout on Election Day.


Details: So far, first-time and infrequent Democratic voters are outpacing registered Republicans with larger margins than in 2016, according to data from TargetSmart, a Democratic firm.

  • “In North Carolina, nearly 1 in 5 ballots cast so far come from those who didn’t vote in 2016," said Greg Speed, president of America Votes.
  • 24.9 million ballots have already been cast. In key states like Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Iowa, more than a quarter of the total number of ballots that were cast in 2016 have already been received.
  • More than six times as many Democrats have cast ballots than at the same point in 2016 — and Republican early voting has nearly quadrupled.

Pennsylvania and Florida are key to watch.

  • 59% of first-time voters who already cast ballots in Pennsylvania are registered Democrats, compared to the just 15% who are registered Republicans. Democratic first-time voters were just barely outvoting Republicans (40% to 38%) at this point in 2016.
  • In Florida, registered Democrats' lead over registered Republicans among first-time voters has grown by nearly 10 percentage points compared to 2016.

What to watch: 2020 is an election like none other, and comparisons to 2016 should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • "I can't help but look at this data with the lens of Trump telling Republicans so consistently that vote-by-mail is a scam," Josh Mendelsohn, CEO of Michael Bloomberg's data firm Hawkfish, told Axios. "That distrust — it bears out in this data."
  • "There's less of an imperative for Republicans to vote early," said Mike Meyers, a Republican and president TargetPoint Consulting.

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