Early Voting Favors Republicans Over Democrats

PHOTO: Graphic shows early voting dates and 2008 voting percentages for key swing states.
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Early voting favors Democrats. 

That's what the Obama campaign reportedly tried to argue in Ohio recently, where Republican attempted to restrict in-person early voting. There's just one problem. It's not true. At least not entirely. [[MORE]]

While early voting favored President Obama over his Republican challenger John McCain in 2008, and in-person early voting the weekend before an election in some specific instances does favor Democrats, Republicans have traditionally dominated early voting. [[MORE]]

Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who tracks early voting, says the 2008 campaign, in which Obama benefited from early voting, was an exception, not the rule.

"As far as we can tell, looking back at statistics of the overall national pattern, generally Republicans voted early prior to 2008 and in 2010 reverted back to that pattern," McDonald said. 

There was "enthusiasm among Obama supporters [in 2008] and a campaign with mobilization efforts really geared toward early voting," he added. "Contrast that with McCain, where there was less enthusiasm, and his campaign really didn't have an early voter mobilization strategy, and not surprisingly, Democrats tended to vote early in 2008." 

In the Ohio case, Democrats argued that low-income and minority voters would be most affected by the ruling.

There's also no reason Republicans shouldn't lead early voting nationally in 2012. The Romney campaign has already invested in early voting in primaries, according to McDonald, and he says there is every indication that such efforts will continue in the general election.

"They saw what happened in 2008," McDonald said, "and they're not going to let that happen again." 

He added that enthusiasm among Republicans was lacking in 2008, but it reappeared in 2010, and many Republicans voted early that year, "so we should see greater parity in 2012."

This year, fewer voters are as excited about casting a ballot for Obama than four years ago, and the race is shaping up to be a close one. And with about 30 percent or more of all votes in this election are likely to be cast early, campaign organizers have spend time and energy trying to convince those voters that their party is the best choice.

Battleground states, in the election and in court 

Several contentious battles over early voting in swing states such as Ohio and Florida, have helped fuel the idea that Democrats dominate early voting. While that is not generally the case, Democrats do dominate the weekend prior to an election. McDonald says the argument that early voting favors Democrats is mostly made based on that weekend, and on 2008, which was an anomalous year. 

Many African-Americans, a voting bloc that almost entirely backs the president, vote early as part of a church-led mobilization effort, where church groups organize rides to voting places the first weekend in November. 

There is no reason Republicans could not engage their voters in the same manner, he added. 

"They could have rural churches make early voting part of their mobilization strategy," he said. "So in some respects, people are looking particularly at the 2008 election and then they infer that's the way it was and always will be. I don't think that's necessarily true." 

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