Status of the Iowa Early Vote

Former Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign operative Adrian Gray has been the “go to” source all things in early Iowa voting.  Only last night Gray tweeted out the following:

Now we have the top Iowa journalist, Jennifer Jacobs digging through the data and filing the best update on Iowa early voting:

For weeks, the Obama campaign has gone all out to trumpet the Democrats’ lead in early voting in Iowa, but the GOP has gained momentum since absentee ballots became available.

GOP resurgence

Republican voters’ requests for ballots have eclipsed the Democrats for 10 straight days, significantly shrinking President Barack Obama’s advantage, state records show.

Democrat strength

Obama campaign aides note that they’re running the biggest early-vote effort Iowa has ever seen, almost doubling the number of absentee ballots cast for their side at this point four years ago. Twenty-five days out from Election Day in 2008, the number of votes cast by Iowa Democrats was about 54,500. This year, about 115,000 had been cast.

Democrat playbook

In April, Obama campaign aides began their big push for Democratic voters to fill out paperwork to request an absentee ballot, then cast it by mail or in person. In contrast, the Republicans say their plan was to target efforts to Sept. 27, the first day absentee ballots could be turned in. As of now, Democrats are ahead — in both ballots requested (68,000 more than Republicans) and ballots cast (53,000 more), Iowa secretary of state records show.

GOP history

GOP voters in Iowa are more inclined to vote on Election Day than by absentee ballot. Four years ago, Republican John McCain won among Iowa votes cast exclusively on Election Day — 16,804 more Republicans than Democrats turned out. That was a 2.5 percentage-point edge for the GOP, even though McCain lost by nearly 10 points. Absentee ballots the Obama campaign had whipped up from voters in the preceding weeks made the difference.

Dueling claims

On Thursday, the Obama campaign held a press call to talk up the campaign’s strength in early voting in swing states. In Iowa, “Democrats lead in vote-by-mail ballots, in-person early voting, total voting and total ballot requests,” Jeremy Byrd, national field director, told reporters. In a memo Monday, Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, countered that, saying so far 94 percent of the early votes in the swing states have not yet been cast when compared to the pace of four years ago. “To claim a ‘big advantage’ based off of a phase that’s just 6 percent complete is almost as absurd as predicting the outcome of a baseball game after the second out,” Beeson wrote.

Momentum shift

In Iowa, momentum on ballots requested began to turn Sept. 29, according to the state’s tally. The trajectory has favored Republicans for 10 reports in a row since then. On vote-by-mail and in-person ballots, during the period since ballots became available, the GOP picked up about 99,000 returned ballots, while the Democrats picked up about 75,000, state records show.

Minding the gap

Neither side thinks Republicans will entirely surpass Democrats in absentee ballot participation in the next three weeks — the Obama campaign is promoting it more, and history suggests the Democrats will maintain the edge. The Republicans’ mission is to keep narrowing the gap over the next 21 days, Kochel said. Romney backers believe they will easily surpass McCain’s previous 2.5 percentage-point edge in Election Day turnout and come closer then ever to matching the Democrats’ absentee ballots this year. If they’re right, Romney would be within striking distance.

The 2010 blueprint

Iowa Democrats led in absentee ballots in 2010, but lost heavily in the general election. Currently, among active voters in Iowa, the GOP has a registration advantage of 11,000.

Metrics to watch

Messina said he’s a data-driven guy, and the most telling numbers of the election are the registered voters, ballots requested and early votes cast.


  1. housebroken dad
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    Darn, went up to 70k today (requested ballots) 😦

  2. M.Remmerde
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Unfortunately, I think this is the year where Rs come to the realization that Iowa is becoming a pretty reliable D stronghold. It’s looked stubbornly Obama-leaning through Romney’s surge.

    I wonder if the rural to urban population shift in IA is giving us a picture of what might happen in the Dakotas (or maybe even Nebraska, Kansas) on into the future.

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