Final Iowa early vote numbers: Is Clinton's lead large enough?

Most election forecasters see Iowa likely to go to Donald Trump, based on the preponderance of opinion polls taken here in the past month.

However, Michael McDonald, who closely tracks early voting for the U.S. Elections Project, concluded that Iowa leans to Hillary Clinton, based on the ballots cast before election day.

How can that be, given that the current Democratic lead in ballots returned to county auditors is significantly smaller than what President Barack Obama carried into election day 2012?

I enclose below tables showing yesterday’s absentee ballot numbers and the totals from November 5, 2012 (the day before the general election). All daily early vote tables from this year’s campaign are archived here.

Key points:

• County auditors have received 42,018 more ballots from registered Democrats than from Republicans. At this point in the 2012 campaign, the Democratic lead was 66,527.

• Republicans slightly exceeded their 2012 absentee ballots numbers this year; Democrats cast only about 92 percent as many early votes.

• Early voting by Iowans affiliated with neither party is just under 86 percent of the 2012 level. That’s probably bad news for Democrats, since Obama carried the no-party early vote four years ago. However, Clinton likely still leads among the 174,850 no-party voters who had cast ballots as of November 7.

• The Democratic return rate (just under 92 percent) is a shade lower than the Republican return rate (just above 93 percent). As of yesterday, county auditors had received 90 percent of the absentee ballots requested by no-party voters.

• Democrats have 23,464 ballots to chase, Republicans only 15,470.

So why did McDonald give a slight edge to Clinton? From his analysis for the Huffington Post:

Iowa is one of the few places in America where early voting levels are down from 2012. As of Monday, 42,584 fewer Iowans have voted early than 2012, a decrease of 6.3% from the same day in 2012. The decrease is primarily being driven by registered Democrats not showing up at the same levels of 2012. There are 21,744 fewer Democrats who have voted early in 2016 compared to 2012, while there are 2,765 more Republicans. More Democrats have voted early, but the Democrats’ lead has shrunk from 9.9 percentage points in 2012 to 6.7 points in 2016. This is a 3.2 point shift towards the Republicans, or a raw vote narrowing of the Democratic margin by 24,509 votes.

As bad as Iowa has been for the Democrats, Clinton stands a reasonable chance of winning the state. Obama won Iowa in 2012 by 5.8 percentage points, or 91,927 votes. This gives the Democrats some cushion to give up relative to 2012. Shifting Obama’s 2012 margin down by 3.2 points, yields a 2.4 point Clinton lead. Subtracting the Democrats’ narrowed early vote margin yields a 67,418 vote margin left to give up on Election Day.

Iowa will likely come down to Election Day. Unlike some other early voting states, a majority of Iowans will vote on Election Day. In 2012, only 43.7% of Iowans voted prior to Election Day. The polls have not been favorable to Clinton, but some recent polls have a tie or a narrow Clinton lead. This will be a close state, and there could be a higher level of Democratic crossover votes here, but according to the early vote Iowa leans Clinton.

The biggest unknown is whether Clinton or Trump consolidated a higher share of the early votes from members of their respective parties. Here in the Des Moines suburbs, I know of many registered Republicans who voted early for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin, or left the top of the ballot blank. I even know of some who crossed over to vote for Clinton. But I have no idea whether they outnumber the Iowa Democrats who abandoned Clinton for Trump or a third-party candidate.

In other words, Clinton’s lead could be larger or smaller than it appears.

Although the last Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register suggested Iowa is out of reach for Clinton, I concede nothing. I’m doing one last canvassing shift for Jennifer Konfrst in a couple of hours.

Two final observations: first, from Brad Anderson, who directed Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in Iowa.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, the HRC team in Iowa deserves a ton of credit for the organization they have built. Let’s face it, the map has changed and they have done way more with fewer resources than we had 4 years ago. 2012 and 2016 are different and it’s dangerous to compare the two campaigns, but let’s do it anyway. In Iowa in 2012 we had 37 Obama/Biden trips (37!), 67 offices (67!), hundreds of staff, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, even Ashley Judd and her little dog she carried around with her seemingly every other week. Despite a fraction of the tools and resources, this 2016 team has IMPROVED early vote numbers in college campuses and targets across the state and amassed a GOTV army that rivals any our state has ever seen. My prediction? HRC wins Iowa by a whisker and owes our 6 electoral votes to the strength and grit of her Iowa organization. Good luck, you guys have made us proud!

Second, from Kurt Meyer, intrepid leader of the Tri-County Democrats:

Today, we seek to elect our first woman President. On Election Day in 1869, 51 years before women could cast their ballots, voters in Mitchell County, Iowa, elected the first woman EVER to public office in the US: Julia Addington, Superintendent of County Schools. She won on a tie vote, with the tie broken by a flip of a coin. The message: Every vote counts! Grab a like-minded friend as you head to the polls today. (My ancestors had been in Mitchell County for more than a dozen a years by the time Addington was elected. I wonder if they voted… and if they did, if they voted for a woman?)

Absentee ballots requested by Iowa voters as of November 7, 2016
Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters other total
IA-01 72,530 50,294 44,061 629 167,514
IA-02 84,099 56,163 47,331 757 188,350
IA-03 74,944 60,615 36,439 662 172,660
IA-04 52,113 66,602 37,792 540 157,047
 
statewide 283,686 233,674 165,623 2,588 685,571

Absentee ballots received by Iowa county auditors as of November 7, 2016
Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters other total
IA-01 66,399 46,951 39,735 547 153,632
IA-02 77,977 52,841 43,227 685 174,730
IA-03 67,437 55,614 32,236 580 155,867
IA-04 48,409 62,798 34,618 486 146,311
 
statewide 260,222 218,204 149,816 2,298 630,540

Absentee ballots requested by Iowa voters as of November 5, 2012
Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters other total
IA-01 80,331 49,295 54,092 253 183,971
IA-02 92,158 55,899 58,163 339 206,559
IA-03 79,422 60,449 42,845 227 182,943
IA-04 60,830 63,864 43,163 180 168,037
 
statewide 312,741 229,507 198,263 999 741,510

Absentee ballots received by Iowa county auditors as of November 5, 2012
Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters other total
IA-01 72,458 46,546 47,554 219 166,777
IA-02 84,079 52,859 51,759 305 189,002
IA-03 69,928 55,945 36,815 188 162,876
IA-04 55,501 60,089 38,722 157 154,469
 
statewide 281,966 215,439 174,850 869 673,124

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