35% Of Voters Expected To Vote Early This Year

Early voting is likely to be more popular this year than it has been in any previous election:

With voters in the swing state of Iowa today joining those in two-dozen other states who can already cast their vote for president, the surge in early voting is necessitating a change in campaign strategy, says Paul Gronke, director of the Early Voting Information Center.

Gronke tells NPR’s Morning Edition that he expects some 35 percent of all votes in the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney to be cast before Election Day on Nov. 6, even though some states this year have limited early voting.

Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., estimates that up to 33 percent of voters cast early ballots in 2008, compared with about 20 percent in 2004 and 15 percent in 2000.

“I think campaigns have to mobilize over a longer period of time,” Gronke says of the changes caused by early voting. “We don’t really know whether those last-minute bombshells that … don’t allow your opponent time to react, we don’t know whether they’re retiming those or not, but you would think that you can’t wait [until] after one-third of the electorate has voted to drop that information.”

Despite some limits on early voting since 2008, Gronke estimates that 35 percent of all votes will be cast before Election Day. “As voters choose this method, they tend to continue, and others flock to it,” he says.

As Gronke explains, the early voting phenomenon varies depending on what part of the country you’re in. It’s particularly popular in the West, where more than half the population will likely vote by mail. In the Southeast, voting habits are divided fairly equally between absentee ballots, early voting, and actual voting on Election Day. It’s still a relatively new phenomenon in the Midwest, with Ohio only its is fourth year of early voting. The one part of the country where early voting hasn’t caught on yet is the Northeast, where most people still wait until Election Day to vote.

Obviously, as Gronke notes, this changes how campaigns operate since it essentially means that you have to have two different Get Out The Vote operations, one for Election Day and one for the early voters. For this election in particular, it suggests that “early” poll results may be important to the extent that the give us an idea of who might be voting early.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Paul Hsieh says:

    I know lots of people here in CO who will be voting early.

    Some interesting stats about Colorado’s system from the Weekly Standard:

    “Three weeks before the election, ballots are mailed to 70 percent of voters, and early voting at polling stations begins on October 22. Only 15 percent of voters may be left to show up on November 6.”

  2. Ben says:

    It’s not that people in the Northeast haven’t caught on to early voting. It’s that we don’t have it, period. At least in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. And we can’t vote by mail unless we fall into a couple very restrictive categories. Believe me, I’d love to vote early.

  3. legion says:

    That’s a pretty eye-opening number, but are there decent estimates yet on who is likely to utilize early voting? Dem/Rep, incumbent/challenger, young/old? And I’m assuming the counts won’t be done until election day, to avoid poisoning the well, yes? I’m really curious about how this will affect things on election day itself… a lot of people out west complain that when eastern polls close & estimates are released, they don’t feel like their votes really mean that much – since the NE will be mostly voting on the day, while the west will already have a lot of votes on-hand at sun-up, will that change they dynamic?

  4. Rick Almeida says:

    I’m inclined to think 35% seems really high, but Gronke is a very, very good, careful scholar.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    35% of the entire electorate?? Holy hell. Wow. That goes a long way towards explaining why the media-Democrat complex released that “47%” videotape so far out from the election, as opposed to waiting for the traditional late hit window of the Thursday prior thereto.

    That aside, methinks if this early voting trend continues it radically will affect the ways in which campaigns will be run. I guess it already has. Saturation bombing the airwaves with negative attack ads the week before the election would be much less effective than in prior election cycles. Ad attacks need to be aired a lot more ratably.

    How will this affect the union machines? Used to be the unions either would bargain for or just help themselves to a full day off on Election Day proper. Then they’d hit the streets. Well, if larger and larger numbers of people are going to be voting weeks before Election Day how exactly will the unions deal with that? I doubt even GM would be willing to start giving days off in September so the UAW can start ginning up turnout for a November election.

    On the GOP side, I think the need to canvass early will hurt them. Republicans tend to be very inept at retail politics. It’s like pulling teeth for them to establish viable ground games. It’ll be quite the tall order for the GOP to have effective GOTV operations over the course of multiple weeks. They’re just not nearly as committed as Democrats. They don’t want it nearly as much.

  6. DC Loser says:

    I voted absentee ballot in VA two days ago since I’ll be out of my area of residence the whole day.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    That goes a long way towards explaining why the media-Democrat complex released that “47%” videotape so far out from the election…

    Yes, of course, it’s nothing more than a liberal hit job…I mean, it isn’t like Romney himself said those words…

  8. Jc says:

    They need to add a reason code to the VA absentee ballot that says ” because I don’t want to wait in that long ass line” Reason code DUH