It has become an accepted fact since 1980 that Republicans are more likely to vote than Democrats. Democrats in elections from 1960 to 1980 were able to off-set this GOP advantage simply by the fact there were far more Democrats in the country than Republicans. But come 1980 and Republicans developed a turnout and fundraising machine that vastly dwarfed Democrats efforts. It was not until 2008 that Democrats finally seemed to gain the upper hand on the turnout front.
So today, in 2012, this sets up the battle between the GOP’s organic turnout advantage, fueled in many areas by Republican disdain for Obama and the Obama turnout machine that worked wonders in 2008. Already, preliminary signs point to the Democratic turnout machine advantage.
In multiple battleground states Democrats have an early voting and absentee ballot lead. In Florida, North Carolina Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio and Iowa all signs point to Obama likely having a lead heading into election night. Only in CO have more registered Republicans sent in absentee ballots.
But lest Republicans get discouraged this part of campaigning has not been the bread and butter of the GOP since 2004. In fact, the Romney campaign’s goal was not to win early voting but rather to significantly narrow down Obama’s margins in these states from 2008. By all accounts they are do this to varied degrees by state.
The GOP’s organic turnout advantage is sure to manifest itself on election day. Consider that in 2008 John McCain actually won the majority of votes cast on election day by a slim margin. Considering the tilt of the country today that margin is likely to grow.
In states like PA and VA, where early voting is not the norm, the GOP advantage could be amplified. In states such as NC and FL, where early voting just caught on in 2008, the GOP could also enjoy an advantage. In CO, if more Republicans are voting early than Democrats it means Democrats need to win independents on election day to carry the state. Yet the Romney campaign is not taking this advantage for granted.
In PA, Romney volunteers have focused heavily on the swing collar counties that surround Philly. They also have offices in the SW part of the state where white, blue-collar, coal voting voters could spell the difference between defeat and victory. In Ohio and Wisconsin particularly, the RNC and Romney campaign have invested heavily in their election day turnout machine. Whether it is enough or not may depend on how much these voters dislike Obama or if they are inspired by Romney.
The Obama campaign since Day 1 has seemed to recognize the GOP will have a turnout advantage on election day. Their early voter turnout efforts have been the most technologically advanced and cash expensive efforts in electoral history. In court cases in Ohio and Florida, federal courts have sided with Democrats in extending early voting hours. In Ohio this means voters were lined up outside the sole early voting polling booth in Hamilton County, where swing Cincinnati sits. In Florida, a judge ruled due to heavy traffic in the few opening polling booths in Broward County, the polls had to stay open four hours longer than mandated by state law.
Democrats expect this to boost their early voting efforts. But Republicans counter that it also simply gives them more time to get their less reliable voters to the polls early. Both sides definitely do have less reliable supporters. Numerous polls out of Ohio alone have found that Romney is handily winning the votes of people who consider their choice “the lesser of two evils.” For both the Obama and Romney campaigns these could be called less than reliable voters.
Turnout more than anything is likely to decide Tuesday night but both sides paths to victories will diverge. For the GOP they have played damage control until election day when they win the turnout battle. But for Democrats, if they win in enough states in early voting by big enough margins then election night will be a joyous one for the Left. We will see.