WASHINGTON – As early presidential voting begins Friday and North Carolina becomes the first state in the nation to send postal ballot papers, major battlefield states see a sharp surge in postal ballot requests and registered Democrats outperform Republicans.
Although North Carolina voters have until the end of October to request a postal ballot, the first numbers suggest that voting behavior is changing dramatically this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and provides an overview of voter turnout, eight weeks before Start of the race.
Publicly available data from North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania show that of the postal ballot papers requested so far, significantly more requests were made by registered Democrats than by Republicans. An estimate of party registration in Ohio by the political data firm TargetSmart shows similar results while Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck in Wisconsin. The only battlefield state where the GOP had more voting requests was Michigan.
These six swing states are vital to the strategies of President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Trump won all six in 2016 by tight margins.
In North Carolina, 643,400 voters had requested a postal vote by September 3. Of these requests, 337,362 were made by registered Democrats and 103,620 by registered Republicans. The remaining ballot papers requested went to voters who were not affiliated with either of the two major parties.
At the same time in the 2016 race, only 38,871 North Carolina voters had requested postal votes.
In Florida, 451,147 Democrats have requested a postal ballot, according to the State Department, compared to 294,951 Republicans. Trump won Florida with 112,911 votes in 2016, which has 29 votes on Electoral College, the most of any high-ranking battlefield state.
In Pennsylvania, which Trump carried with less than 45,000 votes, more than 1 million Democrats are seeking a postal ballot compared to 388,000 Republicans. In other words, 70 percent of the requests were from Democrats and 25 percent from Republicans.
An estimate of party registration, based on a statistical model, was used to determine the breakdown in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where party registration is not publicly available. Party registration is modeled by TargetSmart using several commercial sources.
In Ohio, 50 percent of postal ballots were requested by Democrats, while 38 percent were by Republicans. In Wisconsin it was a virtual tie of 39 percent for each party.
Michigan is the only battlefield where Republicans are ahead of the game. It makes up 43 percent of requests, compared to 38 percent of Democrats.
Together, Democrats account for 42 percent of the ballots with early voting activity so far in all states, including less competitive locations like West Virginia and Maryland, followed by Republicans at 40 percent.
Although more Democrats are voting for postal ballots than Republicans, voters have weeks to submit their applications, and those numbers could change dramatically by election day. And the postal voting requests are not necessarily good predictions of what will happen on election day.
With Trump undertaking countless attacks against the validity of postal votes and downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, some of his supporters may also be more inclined to vote in person.