|The data in this table come from the statewide statistical reports, which you can download as pdf files on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State's website.
||total Democratic vote
||Democrats voting early
||total Republican vote
||Republicans voting early
||total no-party vote
||no-party voting early
Absentee ballots requested by Iowa voters as of October 24, 2012
Absentee ballots received by Iowa county auditors as of October 24, 2012
Looking at the absentee ballot numbers over the past month, you can see that for a while, Republicans were steadily cutting into the Democratic advantage in early voting. A spread of more than 80,000 as of September 18 had shrunk to less than 70,000 by October 12. After that point, the Democratic edge stabilized around 70,000, and in the past few days it has grown to 75,000.
Adrian Gray sees the Iowa race shaping up like 2004. He commented on October 23,
IOWA: Trending like 2004. Margin at 72k (with 31%R, 45%D, and 24%I). This point in 2004, margin 71k (with 27%R, 49%D, 25%I). Goal <60k.
Yesterday Gray observed,
IOWA: Still mirrors 2004. Today D margin is 74k (31%R, 44%D, 24%I) and closing. At 71k at same point in 2004 (was 27%R, 49%D, 25%I in 2004)
A couple of problems with this analysis: first, the Democratic margin stopped "closing" earlier this month.
Second, there were a lot more election-day voters in Iowa in 2004 than there will be this year. The statewide statistical report for 2004 shows that 1,497,741 Iowans cast ballots, of whom 460,059 voted early. That means 1,037,682 Iowans voted on election day.
This year the early vote in Iowa will be well above 600,000, perhaps closer to 700,000. If Democrats go into election day ahead by 70,000 or more early ballots, Romney will need a higher percentage of the late deciders to make up the difference. Gray's model for a narrow Romney victory in Iowa is based on 547,000 early voters and total turnout around 1.53 million.
Gray also assumes no-party voters in Iowa will end up splitting for Romney 53 percent to 47 percent. Polls have been inconclusive on whether Obama or Romney leads among Iowa independents. Iowa Democrats feel confident in their program for generating early ballots from sympathetic no-party voters.
There's no doubt in my mind that this year's election results in Iowa will look more like 2004 than like the past three general elections, all waves. I think Obama will end up in the George W. Bush position of narrow winner, though.
Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- Voting in person at a county auditor's office or satellite station has a lower error rate than mailing your absentee ballot.
UPDATE: As of October 25, the Democratic lead in absentee ballot requests had grown to more than 77,000, and the Democratic lead in ballots returned was a little more than 57,000. Statewide, 586,943 Iowans had requested absentee ballots, and county auditors had received 423,586 completed ballots.
Adrian Gray was still seeing the glass half-full on October 26:
Iowa: Partisan breakdown is 31% GOP and 44% Dem (rest are "no party"). In 2004 at this point, it was 27% GOP, 49% Dem (and Bush won IA).
Remember: fewer Iowans will vote on election day this year than in 2004. I also believe that college students will make up a larger share of no-party early voters this year than in 2004.
OCTOBER 29 UPDATE: As of October 27, the Democratic lead in Iowa absentee ballot requests had grown to 80,000 with more than 624,000 ballots requested statewide.