Four takeaways from Iowa's 2018 early voting numbers

Fourteenth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

The November election was the first since Republicans shortened our state’s early voting window. Proponents of the 2017 law, best known for requiring voter ID, never made a case for limiting early voting. Nor did they produce evidence of any problems caused by allowing Iowans to cast ballots 40 days before elections. (County auditors needed to have ballots ready anyway, since federal law requires them to send overseas military ballots 45 days in advance.)

The power play was inspired by a simple fact: Iowa Democrats rely more on early voting than do Republicans. Switching from 40 days to 29 gave Democratic volunteers two fewer weekends to “chase” absentee ballots.

Now that the statewide statistical report on the 2018 general election is available, we can see how early voting played out in a compressed time frame. Bleeding Heartland previously discussed notable findings on turnout rates for Iowans of different political affiliations, age groups, and gender.

Note: All figures in the tables below come from statewide statistical reports available on the Secretary of State’s website. Those documents list the number of “absentee” voters in each category, directly below the “total voted” in that group. Here, “absentee” refers to all ballots cast before election day by any means: mailed ballots or early voting in person at a county auditor’s office or satellite location.

On to the takeaways:

1. A slightly smaller share of voters cast early ballots, compared to the previous three general elections.

Turnout was unusually high in November for a non-presidential year. So in absolute terms, more Iowans voted early in 2018 than in any previous midterm election. But the percentage of Iowans who cast ballots before election day (40.3 percent) was a bit down from the 2014 election (41.0 percent).

Early voting totals in Iowa midterms
2002 2006 2010 2014 2018
total voting 1,021,200 1,044,459 1,125,386 1,135,138 1,329,930
total voting early 242,357 224,774 360,467 465,166 535,782
Percent voting early 23.7% 21.5% 32.0% 41.0% 40.3%

The last two presidential elections also saw a slightly higher share of Iowans voting early: 43.2 percent in 2012 and 41.3 percent in 2016.

Those trendlines don’t prove that reducing early voting to 29 days suppressed votes. Maybe the majority of politically engaged Iowans would never consider voting early, so even the best GOTV tactics would not significantly increase the percentage of votes banked before election day.

But it’s also possible that some Iowans who intended to vote early failed to return their ballots quickly enough, or had trouble getting to a voting location, due to the shorter window. And logistically, it’s hard for field organizers and volunteers to make the same number of reminder calls or door knocks in eleven fewer days.

2. Democrats still rely more on early voting.

One trend didn’t change in 2018: most Republicans vote on election day, while about half of Democrats cast early ballots.

Voters affiliated with no party are even less likely to vote before election day than are Republicans. Perhaps they are simply less politically engaged; as a group, they consistently vote at lower rates than partisans do in non-presidential years. Alternatively, independents may simply receive fewer mailings and knocks at the door urging them to request an absentee ballot.

Early voting by party in Iowa midterms
Party affiliation 2002 2006 2010 2014 2018
Democrats voting 353,584 384,983 395,312 374,990 458,902
Democrats voting early 116,517 109,862 155,421 186,269 228,966
Percent Ds voting early 33.0% 28.5% 39.3% 49.7% 49.9%
GOP voting 412,863 386,382 447,445 452,283 492,802
GOP voting early 87,344 75,634 136,243 178,653 188,861
Percent GOP voting early 21.2% 19.6% 30.4% 39.5% 38.3%
no-party voting 254,753 273,094 281,546 305,108 368,772
no-party voting early 38,496 39,278 68,499 99,491 115,057
Percent no-party voting early 15.1% 14.4% 24.3% 32.6% 31.2%
 
total voting 1,021,200 1,044,459 1,125,386 1,135,138 1,329,930
total voting early 242,357 224,774 360,467 465,166 535,782
Percent voting early 23.7% 21.5% 32.0% 41.0% 40.3%

3. The oldest voters are still the most likely to vote before election day.

Senior citizens are Iowa’s most reliable voters by far, and most of them get their civic duty out of the way early. That makes sense, given the number of elderly people who reside in assisted living facilities or cannot drive themselves to the polls.

In each of Iowa’s last five midterm elections, the oldest voters had the highest rate of absentee voting.

Early voting by age group in Iowa midterms
Age group 2002 2006 2010 2014 2018
18-24 voting 48,811 51,776 59,861 56,020 93,808
18-24 voting early 15,415 13,187 21,262 21,006 31,179
Percent 18-24 voting early 31.6% 25.5% 35.5% 37.5% 33.2%
25-34 voting 98,724 101,015 199,510 118,679 158,049
25-34 voting early 17,492 14,543 25,293 35,395 47,142
Percent 25-34 voting early 17.7% 14.4% 21.2% 29.8% 29.8%
35-49 voting 299,644 275,648 257,406 234,020 286,080
35-49 voting early 49,395 36,994 54,152 67,165 85,217
Percent 35-49 voting early 16.5% 13.4% 21.0% 28.7% 29.8%
50-64 voting 296,631 334,672 378,349 379,881 391,837
50-64 voting early 66,009 68,088 117,679 152,667 155,955
Percent 50-64 voting early 22.3% 20.3% 31.1% 40.2% 39.8%
Over 65 voting 277,390 281,346 310,259 346,538 400,156
Over 65 voting early 94,046 91,962 142,081 188,933 216,289
Percent over 65 voting early 33.9% 32.7% 45.8% 54.5% 54.1%
 
total voting 1,021,200 1,044,459 1,125,386 1,135,138 1,329,930
total voting early 242,357 224,774 360,467 465,166 535,782
Percent voting early 23.7% 21.5% 32.0% 41.0% 40.3%

4. Women are still more likely to vote early.

Iowa women have long been more willing to vote early, in presidential elections as well as midterms. I haven’t seen any research on this question, but I would guess it is linked to women’s family obligations. An emergency preventing a voter from getting to the polls on election day is more likely to affect a primary caregiver to children or older relatives.

Early voting by gender in Iowa midterms
Gender 2002 2006 2010 2014 2018
Women voting 541,145 552,260 587,561 593,649 697,349
Women voting early 140,091 127,737 201,638 258,804 297,602
Percent women voting early 25.9% 23.1% 34.3% 43.6% 42.7%
Men voting 480,036 492,198 537,824 541,489 632,581
Men voting early 102,258 97,037 158,829 206,362 238,180
Percent men voting early 21.3% 19.7% 29.5% 38.1% 37.7%
 
total voting 1,021,200 1,044,459 1,125,386 1,135,138 1,329,930
total voting early 242,357 224,774 360,467 465,166 535,782
Percent voting early 23.7% 21.5% 32.0% 41.0% 40.3%

Any comments about 2018 voting trends are welcome in this thread.

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