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Early Voting Update: Here’s What These Very Early Numbers Mean (and Don’t Mean)

Thus far, we’ve only had three days of in-person early voting. Do you really think that’s stopping the D.C. pundits from extrapolating the entire national midterm election based on our very first ballots cast? And of course, do you think that’s stopping either party from spinning these very early numbers in the best light possible?

I figure now’s a good time for us to catch up on what’s really going on.

Four days in, who’s really winning?
Photo by Andrew Davey

As Jon Ralston and a slew of other local pundits (who are worth paying closer attention to than the cable news talking heads) have been noting, overall turnout is far ahead of 2014, when turnout basically hit rock bottom. As of this morning (and with several rural counties yet to report Monday tallies) Democrats currently have about a 3.7% turnout lead. While that’s nearly 1% below Democrats’ statewide registration lead, it is a huge improvement from 2014, when Republicans had a 10% turnout lead after the first week of early voting.

But as Hugh Jackson has correctly noted, 2014 is an incredibly low bar to clear. So looking all the way back to 2010 (as in, the last midterm that featured a hotly contested U.S. Senate race), Democrats and Republicans were dead even after the first week of early voting. So in terms of Democratic turnout, Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) and Steve Sisolak (D) are probably enjoying much more of a “blue cushion” than Harry Reid (D) and Rory Reid (D) got eight years ago. But because Rosen almost certainly isn’t winning as many Republican crossover votes as Reid did in 2010, she needs more Democratic base voters turning out and/or more Nonpartisan voters shifting her way.

Because we don’t know how all these Nevadans have voted, we obviously don’t know for sure who’s winning. So if we apply the typical partisan split of Republicans overwhelmingly voting for Republican candidates and Democrats overwhelmingly voting for Democratic candidates (and Nonpartisan voters splitting somewhere near 50-50 down the middle), Nevada Democrats have reason to be encouraged… And motivation to do better in the next ten days.

Are voters of color turning out?
Photo by Andrew Davey

This is another huge question that so many pundits (including those with little knowledge of diverse communities) have been pontificating about. There’s certainly a reason why former President Barack Obama was at UNLV yesterday, and why many other political (and entertainment industry) celebrities will be visiting us between now and November 6. Smart folks on all sides know that overall turnout drops in midterm years, and turnout tends to be lowest in the most diverse working-class neighborhoods.

At the Culinary Union rally with Joe Biden last Saturday, I spoke with an expert who’s working to turn out Latinx voters for Rosen and other Democratic candidates. After I pressed this expert on all the speculation about Latinx voters rejecting Democratic overtures and sitting out the election entirely, this expert made clear to me that their data shows otherwise. This expert then noted other recent (publicly available) data points, such as the Latino Decisions tracking polls, showing higher engagement and enthusiasm.

One huge test will be this weekend, when the famed East Las Vegas Cardenas early voting site and the Maryland Parkway Seafood City open for business. If we see long lines and huge crowds of excited voters there, it will probably be a sign that the organizers on the ground are doing their job.

What’s the issue? (No, really.)
Photo by Andrew Davey

As I conversed with this smart Latinx community expert, we also brought up a key point: Voters want to choose candidates who offer real ideas and actual solutions to the problems facing their community. And while immigration continues to loom large, it’s not the only issue people care about. They’re also concerned about their kids’ education, their families’ health care, and their communities’ economic future.

While President Donald Trump remains as popular as the flu and potholes in communities of color, Trump-hate alone may not be enough to motivate a critical mass of voters to turn out. We’ll talk more about these issues later this week. In the meantime, think about why former President Barack Obama spoke so much about health care, tax equity, and the social safety net while condemning Trump’s xenophobia and urging the crowd to go out and vote.

As Obama said yesterday, “When you vote, good things happen.” So maybe, just maybe, voters want to know how good things happen as they decide how (and in many cases, if) to vote.

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