Despite suggestions by political pundits that voters are empathetic this election season, some 2.5 million Americans have already cast their votes in the midterm elections, and at the current pace, early voting numbers could actually exceed those of 2008.
Professor Michael McDonald, of George Mason University, calls the trend surprising. "Normally, in a midterm election we see a little bit of a retrenchment of early voting rates from the previous presidential election," McDonald says, adding, "If anything we're seeing an expansion of early voting, not a retraction."
Two years ago, early voting gave Democrats a solid advantage, but in 2004 Republicans benefitted. This time around, both sides are feeling optimistic. It all depends on which states you delve into.
Republicans highlight Pennsylvania, home to a number of hot races this year. The Secretary of State's office reports that 56 percent of absentee ballots that have been returned came from registered Republicans, while 37 percent were from Democrats. In Florida, GOP leaders say their analysis shows the party currently holds a 22 point advantage over Democrats with regard to returned absentee ballots.
Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye analogizes the situation to a basketball game in which Republicans have the ball, ready to score the winning basket at the buzzer. "That's a position that we want to be in, and it's a position that no one thought we would be in on January 20th last year when President Obama was sworn in," Heye says.
But there is reason for Democrats to be encouraged as well. In Iowa, where roughly 189,000 ballots have been cast, 46 percent came from registered Democrats and 38 percent from Republicans. Statistics also show Democrats are casting early votes more quickly than Republicans in Maryland and North Carolina.
"The Democrats aren't just rolling over and playing dead in this election," McDonald says. He, and others, point to the well-organized, get-out-the-early-vote efforts Democrats managed so well in 2008. According to McDonald, "It looks as though that organization has been rolled over into the 2010 elections." Recent rallies have been headlined by President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, and Democratic leaders think early voting will ultimately give them the edge.