Earlier this morning, Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor of the Cook Political Report, posted this chart on the absentee (mail) vote in Ohio. It was quickly seized up by conservatives looking for a glimmer of light for Romney in Ohio. The chart splits the counties by which ones were carried by Kerry/Obama, Bush/Obama, and then Bush/McCain. First, it is widely recognized that one of John McCain’s dumbest mistakes, beyond picking Sarah Palin to be his running mate, was to not focus on building the early vote, but Obama did. Second, there are only twenty-two “Obama” counties- a quarter of the counties of the State.
The conservatives leaped because the Obama/Kerry absentee turn out dropped 4% from 2008, while the McCain/Bush counties jumped 14.39% from 2008. It works out to be a 18% swing in favor of the “Republican” counties. And while that’s a good improvement, that’s not all you can look at. You have to look at keep in perspective what the gap was in 2008 and 2012.
At the end of the day, it’s total numbers of votes that matters, not the percentages from last year of this trend or that. So, what does the GOP improved early vote in 2012 put them? Even after increasing their share of the absentee vote by 18%, the McCain/Bush counties are being outvoted by nearly 2:1 by the counties Obama carried in 2008. Narrowing the gap by 18%, still leaves a gap of 82%. If you’re opponent’s geographic base is outvoting your base by nearly 2:1, then you probably aren’t on a path to victory.
And we’re talking about counties the campaigns carried, not McCain voters. No county goes entirely to a candidate. In fact, McCain carried 59%, on average, the counties he carried. So if you apply that to the 18% swing in the McCain counties, Romney likely gains 74,072 votes. That’s less than 75% of margins Obama carried Ohio. Why is that significant? Well, the Romney campaign has been claiming that they’ve improved the GOP early vote so much that it wiped out Obama’s margin of victory in Ohio entirely:
So, if Mitt Romney’s strategy was to have the absentee vote gap narrow enough to equal Obama’s 2008 margin, they failed.
And keep in mind, we’ve only been talking about the absentee ballots, which historically Republicans carried an advantage, not a 2:1 advantage for the Democrat. In fact, the history of Republicans dominating the early vote by absentee in Ohio is why Republicans like Jon Husted, as a state legislature, pushed to open up absentee voting to no-excuse early voting. They also assumed that the trend would continue with in-person early voting. That’s why Democrats actually opposed those efforts.
What does the 2012 data show for in-person voting? Well, despite all the efforts of Republicans, like Jon Husted (ironic, no?) to limit in-person early voting to business hours in workdays, over a half a million in-person early votes were cast. That’s 1/3 of all early votes, which will be close to being a third of all ballots expected to be cast in the race. If Obama gets 62.5% of those votes, which is roughly what the polls projected and similar to the near 2:1 ratio of absentee ballot casts by Obama/McCain counties, then that’s more than enough to wipe out the 74k Romney thinks he’s narrowing from improving the absentee ballots.
Republicans thought they could strap a hundred bottle rockets to their motorcycle and somehow jump the Grand Canyon this year. But like last time, we’re predict all the little flashes and bangs will be followed by the inevitable loud crash.
Keep in mind that Barack Obama’s advantage in the early vote in Ohio wasn’t what got Obama to carry Ohio. It’s what allowed Obama to outperform his aggregate poll average margins by nearly double. And as we’ve pointed out, Obama’s aggregate polling average is higher in 2012 than it was in 2008. Yes, the Republicans improved their absentee vote getting. Absolutely. But all the data shows is that it jeopardized Obama’s ability to carry Ohio by five points. It doesn’t, at all, indicate that Mitt Romney is likely to carry Ohio. That’s the same conclusion that Dave Wasserman reached, a point lost on the conservatives touting his tweets about these numbers.
Obama had room to underperform 2008 and still win Ohio. The in-person early vote to absentee ballot ratio in Cuyahoga County is roughly the same it was in 2008. In fact, the Board of Elections believes that turnout overall in Cuyahoga will be the same as in 2008. That is terrible news for Mitt Romney and the conservative poll unskewers who said that it was impossible for Democratic turnout to be the same as it was in 2008.
In other bad news, CNN just reported that their early exit poll numbers for Ohio shows Democrats with a +9 advantage, which is larger than any poll we’ve seen in Ohio.