At the conclusion of early voting this weekend, about 115,000 more people voted early than in the general election of Oct. 12. This set an all-time record for early turnout proportion – although history suggests that won’t last long, as early voting for the 2020 elections that features the presidential race should surge past it.
But, significantly, the proportion of blacks in early voting rose from around 25 to 31 percent from the general election to runoff, undoubtedly spurred by efforts of special interest groups to round up and deliver them to early voting locations in larger parishes (typically two locations). As roughly of 90 percent of blacks will vote for Democrats, this gives a boost to Edwards and others of his party running in down-ballot contests (although only a handful of state-level contests went to a runoff featuring major party matchups, and in every case leaving Republicans heavily favored).
This dynamic largely drove the relative increase of Democrats voting early compared to Republicans in contrast to the general election. In that, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans was just 1.06:1; for the runoff, it ended up 1.21:1 – better for that party, but below the historical level and not much above the historical extrapolation average from general election to runoff of 16 percent more Democrats.
In fact, this contains a bit of bad news for Democrats. Had the increase in blacks voting early only matched the increase of whites doing the same, the two parties would have ended up even at 1:1, which points to white Democrats slacking off slightly relatively more.
Overall, the early voting gap shrunk to the GOP with 2.23 percent more of its registrants, while in the general election it ended up 6.51 percent higher from a 3.75 percent early voting lead. This implies a 3.87 percent gap for the runoff, or a loss of around 18,000 GOP votes relative to Democrats, presumably costing GOP candidate Eddie Rispone. All things equal, that boosts Edwards a percentage point and means if he can snare just one in nine of other candidate votes in the general election, he can win.
However, this is “all things equal” and ignores the substitution effect, or the propensity of people to vote early in place of election day voting. The multiplier historically has favored Democrats from 2014 on, meaning less of the substitution effect for them, at about 21.5 percent of them voting early as opposed to 23 percent of Republicans. But it nearly doubled in gap relative to Democrats over the historical norm for the Oct. 12 election, meaning GOP registrants disproportionately voted early then which, all things equal, indicated Edwards would have only scored in the lower 40 percent range rather than the 46-plus percent he managed.
In all likelihood, the Nov. 16 election should show less substitution effect for Republicans and trend back to the historical norm – aided by a greater substitution effect for Democrats. After the October results, leftist special interests have become increasingly panicked (as their advertising about the governor’s race shows) in the knowledge that the Legislature likely will have Republican supermajorities when the electoral dust settles. With no chance now of advancing their agenda and desperate to prevent rollback, they will go to great lengths to get the vote out to make their Edwards their last, negative bulwark against change in Louisiana’s political system.
That will include a small amount of “new” votes of those not participating in the general election, but history shows only a small proportion of such votes typically appear in state contests (and, because of the constitutional imperatives defining federal election days, turnout always drops substantially in those elections). In short, the relatively larger black early turnout forecasts a larger substitution effect than typical for blacks and Democrats and blacks won’t make up as much or even near to 31 percent of the total electorate.
In reality, the key turnout group to decide the race is whites. In statewide contests not for Congress, typically white turnout declines and almost always for Republicans. If GOP turnout at least can match Democrats’ relative change from general election to runoff, Rispone will win.
Having those early votes in the bank is better than not, so Edwards has that advantage. But his campaign still must convert a significant number of those who opposed him in the general election, the success of which is uncertain.