You might have heard a few things yesterday about early voting in Louisiana, and how somewhat surprisingly, Republican vote numbers are considerably ahead of what they’ve been in the past.
That’s definitely true. What we don’t know is whether this is just a global trend playing out or if it’s an indication of what the electorate will look like when all the votes are counted on the night of the Oct. 12 electoral primary.
As of the end of the day yesterday, there had been 122,148 votes in two days of the current early voting period (Saturday and Monday). That number is considerably up, some 2.5 times the number of early votes from the 2015 primary election. In fact, in just two days of the seven-day early voting period those 122,148 votes represent better than half of the 234,722 votes cast early in the entire 2015 primary’s early voting period.
So there is definitely a trend toward more participation in the early voting period – particularly as it isn’t expected turnout this year will be higher overall than it was in 2015.
And Republicans do appear to be leading the trend.
Four years ago, Republicans were 35.9 percent of the early voters. So far in this period, they’re 42.2 percent. The Democrat share of the early voting has shrunk from 51 percent to 43.6 percent.
And black early voters have shrunk from 26.7 percent of the electorate to 24.3 percent.
If black voters are only 24.3 percent of the electorate, the Democrats are sunk. That party has to have black voters at 30 percent of the electorate, or else they won’t be competitive in very many races.
And it should be understood that the Democrats have had a good bit of activity to push early voting. After all, last Friday, the day before early voting began, Maxine Waters (of all people!) showed up in Baton Rouge at a get-out-the-vote event hosted by the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging to howl about impeachment and other items.
We understand the event wasn’t all that well attended, but it did attract the notice of lots of Republicans in Baton Rouge. It’s possible Waters moved the needle in the opposite direction than was intended.
One thing which is a definite driver of early-vote turnout is the St. George incorporation issue. In the area which would become St. George if the incorporation passes, early voting was up 7.3 times from 2015. That’s a pretty good indication St. George is likely to pass, as the organizers of the incorporation effort started with some 15,000 people who had already signed the petition and can win the election just by turning those people out. If the turnout in St. George is high, it’s more likely they’re doing just that than it is opponents are having success in turning out votes of naysayers without a list to work from. We understand polling of the issue shows a clear majority in favor of the incorporation.
But the big issue in this primary cycle is the governor’s race. What does early voting tell us about that?
Well, so far there are more early votes in St. Tammany Parish (8,321) than there are in Orleans (7,139). That was also true in 2015 (14,931 to 13,804), so it’s not dispositive. Interestingly, though, there is a huge swing in John Bel Edwards’ home parish of Tangipahoa. In 2015’s early voting, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 4,049 to 2,766 – but this year, so far 1,174 Republicans have voted compared to 996 Democrats. You’d think that was an indication of Republican strength, though, again, it isn’t dispositive. Across North Louisiana, turnout is up, which should be a good sign for Ralph Abraham.
In a pair of battlefield parishes where Edwards showed surprising strength, a similar story seems to be playing out as in Tangipahoa. Four years ago in early voting in Ascension, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2,778 to 2,074. That has flipped over so far, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 1,839 to 1,509. Edwards ultimately won Ascension by a 52-48 vote over David Vitter in 2015. And in Jefferson, where Edwards beat Vitter 51-49 in 2015, a 6,177-to-5,513 Democrat early voting advantage in the 2015 primary has become a statistical tie (3,358 Democrats, 3,347 Republicans).
There is definite Republican movement. Some of it can be explained by a significant shift in Republican registration at the expense of Democrats since 2016, which some are calling the Trump Effect, but perhaps something else is at work.
We’ve heard this theory but so far haven’t been convinced of it, which is to say that polling putting Edwards above 45 percent and in reach of a primary win has undercounted the two Republican candidates Abraham and Eddie Rispone, as Republicans and conservatives simply don’t take pollsters’ calls. We think that is definitely true nationally, as poll after poll of Trump’s re-election prospects leads to absurd results like the president losing to the likes of Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. But whether that would be true of polling in a statewide race in Louisiana, we’re not sure.
But if these early voting numbers persist, it’s a theory that might gain a bit more currency. The electorate so far simply would not support John Bel Edwards above 45 percent in votes counted.