The Democratic National Committee's targeting team sent senior political strategists and White House officials another early voting memo today, and their bottom line is this: while there are states that Republicans can crow about--Florida is one of them, and Colorado is too, although more ambiguously--the best baseline metrics for determining who's doing better show that the Democrats are more than holding their own.
Here's a chart noting the D to R differential. (You can see the full DNC's full document here: DNC early voting memo.
The obvious question here is what the independents are doing. In different states, there are different answers. In Colorado, based on DNC polling, indies who have cast ballots early are Bennet supporters. In Nevada, they're Sharron Angle supporters. Once again, the data suggests that while Republicans are definitely doing better relative to past years, there is no surge. In most competitive states, Democrats are returning ballots at a higher rate. According to the DNC, Democrats are out-performing Republicans in early vote in many key congressional districts, including all three competitive districts in Iowa. The Democratic claims depend on this assumption: "If Republicans were more enthusiastic in 2010, they would see significantly higher early vote across all levels of vote history than Democrats. Most importantly, sporadic Republicans would consistently out-turnout Sporadic Democrats in early voting."
Since this is not happening -- since Democrats are doing a better job of turning out their sporadic voters in most states, the DNC concludes that, so far as such things can be measured, early vote totals don't suggest a GOP surge. They don't suggest a Democratic surge, either. It is very hard to assess the basic question because states have changed their practices, and because Republicans did a poor job registering new voters over the past four years. Take a state like Nevada. Among voters who first cast their ballots in 2008, Democrats have a 6,000 vote advantage. Among voters who only cast their ballots in presidential election years, Democrats have a 5,000 vote advantage. Among regular midterm voters, Republicans have a 9,000 vote advantage. Republicans would argue that the last number is the most important. Democrats will say that, relative to Republicans, they're doing much better than they should be doing.
What about all those polls showing Republicans with a significant advantage
among likely voters? Huffington Post's polling guru Mark Blumenthal believes that most likely voter models pay too much attention to self-reports of how much voters are paying attention. Here's his argument:
Pew reports that more than half of registered voters (55%) say they were paying "a lot of attention" to the campaign in mid-October, but I don't think that means that half of registered voters were glued to their television screens watching cable news, tuning into campaign debate, reading every campaign story in the metro sections of daily newspapers, etc. What I think the predictable rise in attentiveness during the campaign means is that people are noticing the campaign activity and starting to pay more attention to it.
So we could see everything about how pollsters model likely voters and all of their data, my educated guess is that the more these models rely on self-reported attention paid to the campaign, the more they tend to produce outsized Republican leads. My sense is that polls that have depended more on other means to model the likely electorate, including the internal campaign polls that also make use of previous vote history gleaned from voter files, have produced results that have been more consistent over time.
...Perhaps in years with large enthusiasm gaps, the likely voter measurements that seem to work well in selecting the likely electorate a few days before the election tend to overrepresent the most "fired up" voters a few weeks or months earlier.
"Pew reports that more than half of registered voters (55%) say they were paying "a lot of attention" to the campaign in mid-October, but I don't think that means that half of registered voters were glued to their television screens watching cable news, tuning into campaign debate, reading every campaign story in the metro sections of daily newspapers, etc.," he says in an e-mail. "What I think the predictable rise in attentiveness during the campaign means is that people are noticing the campaign activity and starting to pay more attention to it."
This isn't necessarily good news for Democrats. As Blumenthal notes, if true, it means that the seeming return of Democratic enthusiasm could simply be a reflection of Democrats (who were always going to vote) suddenly paying more attention.