Despite massive registration losses and obscured by the substitution effect relative to when to vote, Democrats have been making incremental gains on Republicans that could provide slight inconvenience to the GOP in next week’s elections.
Early voting has become the trendy thing, with the nationwide total already over half of all counted in 2016. For its part, Louisiana fell just under that figure. Further, Democrats have outpaced Republican substantially in states that record registration by party.
However, this likely won’t reveal much as far as the final numbers go. Nationally, in the few presidential elections where there has happened any substantial amount of it, Democrats historically have outvoted Republicans, but disproportionately when compared to election day. In 2016, despite more Democrats casting ballots prior to that day in large swing states, those went to GOP Pres. Donald Trump.
In Louisiana, the same applies in terms of raw numbers, but Republicans historically have turned out a higher proportion of their registrants than Democrats in early voting. In 2012, the Democrat early turnout rate was only 0.90 of the Republican, while the total rate was 0.91. In 2016, the former rate was 0.77 and the latter 0.87. The 2018 election saw the same pattern, but not in 2014 when relatively higher black early turnout saw a smaller early gap than total gap.
The same trend may happen in 2020. It produced the highest Democrat proportion of 0.95, driven by a higher proportion of early black turnout; a ratio of 1.32:1 white-to-black turnout rate in 2012 and 1.28:1 in 2016 fell to just 1.08:1 in 2020. Yet the problem for the party is the substitution effect – a higher early value indicates trading earlier for later voting instead of higher overall participation – historically has operated. For example, Democrats bumped up their early ratio with Republicans from 0.90:1 in 2012 to 0.92:1 two years later yet the total ratio fell from 0.91:1 to 0.89:1. And two years after that when they struggled with an early voting ratio of just 0.77:1, they rebounded to a 0.87:1 overall, yet next cycle in 2018 they improved to 0.85:1 early but could only get to 0.90:1 in total
Still, it appears that a higher ratio for Democrats in early voting slightly contributes to a higher election day ratio. But the problem for Democrats is they so badly lag Republicans in turnout – 6.68 percent in 2012, 6.94 percent in 2014, 9.96 percent in 2016, and 6.21 percent in 2018. In large part this is because black turnout has trailed white turnout in these years by, respectively, 2.17, 7.04, 6.01, and 6.21 percent. Worse for Democrats, relative to Republicans they have lost since 2012 about 182,000 net registrants while the GOP has picked up over 190,000.
However, the overwhelming portion of this swing likely already voted Republican in national contests, so it doesn’t make for that many additional votes. And further eroding this advantage, the most loyal Democrat bloc, black voters, very incrementally are increasing in proportion of the overall electorate.
Since 2012, white registrants have increased by about 23,000 while their black counterparts have expanded their roll by about 36,000. And a review of the past four even-numbered year general elections shows the major variation in final Democrat/Republican turnout comes from changes in black turnout.
Thus, getting black turnout more to the level of white turnout can reap dividends for Louisiana Democrats. Early voting in 2020 shows the smallest gap of the past three presidential elections. Although the substitution effect will wash most of that away, the small boost higher early voting levels supplies plus the increasing proportion of the black vote – up 0.23 percent of the electorate from 2012 while whites have decreased 1.18 percent – will make life a bit easier for Democrats running.
Not for national office, except maybe that it would allow Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins to put incumbent GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy into a runoff (having to fight off 12 other challengers may divide the vote enough to do that) even as Cassidy remains a prohibitive favorite to win in December if not next month. But, depending upon the distribution of partisan loyalties in electorates at the local level, this trend just might make a difference to benefit a Democrat here or there.