Democrats are crowing today about how their early voting operation is giving President Obama a big edge over Mitt Romney. Early voting has been a priority for the Democrats who have fought hard to preserve it in the crucial swing state of Ohio. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, they are being rewarded for this emphasis by gaining a huge edge among early voters. Reuters reports the poll says Obama leads Romney 59-31 percent among the seven percent of the electorate that has already cast their ballots. If those numbers were accurate and hold up by Election Day, that could make an enormous difference in what has otherwise been considered a tossup election. But, as the Romney campaign has pointed out, the poll doesn’t seem reliable. Nor is it necessarily indicative of what the results will be in various states.
Liberals who have been quick to pounce on any poll with an inadequate sample in the past should steer clear of this Reuters poll. Not only is the margin of error in the survey a whopping 10 percent and therefore so large as to render its results meaningless, but also the sample in each state is miniscule. As Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, pointed out in a memo, the total sample of early voters was only 361 with only 115 of them in swing states. That means the average number of early voters polled in each state is less than 10. Early voting hasn’t even begun for the general population in Colorado, the state with the highest number of early voters four years ago. More important is the identity of the groups the campaigns are targeting in their early voting turnout programs. According to Politico, the Democrats have focused on getting Obama’s base out early while the Republicans think their core voters don’t need to be rousted out to the polls before Election Day, and instead concentrate on wavering potential GOP voters. Whether the latter strategy is smarter than the former is yet to be seen. But the Reuters poll is so flimsy that it’s difficult to see why it should be taken seriously.
Beeson argues there’s no point for his party to invest in a measure that would be devoted to bringing out GOP voters early that he knows will support Romney on Election Day. That may be true for high intensity Republicans, but Democrats seem to think their base needs more help and might not vote at all if they allow many of them to wait until November 6. They are probably right about that, which means their approach makes sense.
Early voting does alter some of the calculations for pollsters since once a person has voted they are invulnerable to the subsequent swings in opinion about the candidates. Democrats seem to think that since Obama has led most of the way, this limits Romney’s path to a comeback win. But since most early voting is happening now, as the Republican surges, this is not a compelling argument for either candidate.
Even if the Reuters poll was accurate — and there is no rational reason to think that it is — it doesn’t mean that Obama should view early voting as his path to re-election. It is just a device to increase turnout among sections of the public who cannot be relied upon to vote without this sort of aid. But there is also no reason to think that exponentially more Democrats will vote early than Republicans nationwide. As Beeson says, of those voters who have requested ballots but have yet to turn in their vote, Democrats hold only a six percent registration edge. Another wild card here is the military vote that may not be so favorable for the Democrats.
That means there is much less than meets the eye to the early voting hoopla. No matter who has what is liable to be a small edge in this category, it won’t decide anything.