With both parties spinning early-vote totals, here's the bottom line: Republicans are significantly improving on 2008 in several big early-voting states.
If you're following the presidential election closely, you know that Election Day isn't just Nov. 6 -- in some states, it's been Election Day for weeks. You may also have heard partisans spouting all kinds of statistics about early vote numbers that prove their side is winning.
"If you look at the early voting, in Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Colorado, Ohio -- we feel very, very good about the numbers that we're mounting up in those states," Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a Wednesday conference call. But just a few hours later, Mitt Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, was on another conference call trumpeting the Republicans' early voting edge. "They are underperforming their 2008 numbers and we are overperforming," he crowed, proceeding to lay out the numbers in Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada.
The blizzard of numbers, of claims and counterclaims, can be so daunting it's tempting to just throw up your hands and decide there's no truth to be had, just spin. But an objective analysis of early turnout can provide valuable tea leaves for Election Day. In many states, election officials disclose how many Democrats and Republicans have voted thus far. We don't know who they're voting for, but in most states, this alignment is a good proxy for the candidates. (Then there's the mystery of those voters who aren't affiliated with a party. In polls, independent voters have generally favored Romney, leading his campaign to claim an edge in this category, but for the purposes of analyzing early voting it's impossible to tell.) It's important to consider which party has historically had the early vote advantage -- Democrats, in most states -- and whether early voting makes up a substantial amount of the vote, which varies from state to state.