Articles and Analysis


Polls and Early Voting in Florida

Topics: 2008 , John McCain , Likely Voters , MSNBC , Newsweek , PPP , Rudy Giuliani , Suffolk , SurveyUSA , The 2008 Race

One note on early voting and the Florida Republican primary. Charles Franklin’s excellent “endgame” summary shows a roughly eight point drop in Rudy Giuliani’s support since December. But the Giuliani campaign sees some hope in early voting. As Newsday reports:

Giuliani’s campaign made a case that it could win here on the back of its get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at early and absentee voters, who are expected to top 450,000 and to account for a third of the turnout.

Are polls showing Guiliani running ten to fifteen percentage points behind frontrunners Mitt Romney and John McCain missing the impact of early voting? Not likely. Of the eight organizations, only three reported the number of Republican primary voters who said they had “already voted” at the time they were interviewed: 27% by SurveyUSA, 25% by PPP and 19% by the Suffolk University poll. All three also provided tabulations comparing early voters to those yet to cast a ballot:

01-28 florida early voting.png

The SurveyUSA and PPP results show Giuliani running a few percentage points higher among early voters, although neither difference is large enough to be statistically significant given the relatively small sample sizes involved. The Suffolk survey finds few Giuliani supporters in its even smaller subgroup of early voters, but even if you ignore the Suffolk result and treat the differences measured by SurveyUSA and PPP as statistically meaningful, they offer Giuliani little hope. Those results are also consistent with Giuliani campaign manager Mike DuHaime’s acknowledgement to Newsday that early voting “could make a difference of only a few percentage points.”

Rudy Giuliani just appeared on Morning Joe on MSNBC and reiterated his confidence in the early vote:

I think the early voting in unprecedented in number. I believe we’ll do very well because we campaigned all during that period bringing out that early vote.

One handicap the Giuliani faced is that the period of early voting occurred over the last fifteen days. However, as Charles Franklin’s endgame graphic shows, significant erosion in Giuliani’s support had already occurred by January 1, so the potential gain from early voting is limited:

01-28 endgame giuliani.png

What about the five or six other polls whose public releases said little or nothing about how they handled early voting? As poll consumers, unfortunately, we are once again in the dark. I assume that most handled early voting as the three cited above did: Their screen questions presumably gave respondents the option to say they had already voted, and hopefully rephrased their trial heat questions to ask early voters about their preferences in the past tense. But we do not know that for sure. Given that early voters may cast a third of Florida’s ballots, disclosure of the way media polls handle early voting ought to be a no-brainer. Why don’t their media sponsors demand it?

PS: Tonight’s exit polls in Florida will include sample of interviews conducted by telephone among early voters, and those results will be weighted with the interviews conducted at polling places today to the best estimate available of absentee ballots as a percentage of all votes cast.

Clarification: Daniel is right to point out a distinction I had missed that Florida makes between “early” and “absentee” voting:

There is an important point of clairification. Early voting *at the polls* has only been going on for the last 15 days. However, it’s my understanding that abstentee voting by mail has been going on since early December. I have no data on what percentage of the 400K votes were at the polls vs by mail, nor do I know anything about the exact wording of the voter screens. My point is that “early voting” and “abstentee voting” are not the same concept in Florida.

Unfortunately, the Florida Secretary of State's absentee voting page does not indicate when "absentee" voting begins. Either way, the available survey data suggest that the preferences of early and absentee voters are, at best, a few percentage points more favorable to Guiliani.

Either way, it is extremely unlikely that pollsters systematically excluded or screening out early and absentee voters. My assumption is that most accounted for early/absentee voters as SurveyUSA and PPP did but reported nothing about their procedures. The worst case is that a pollster that made no modification to their screen and trial heat questions to accommodate early or absentee voters. Under that scenario, I would imagine that those who had already voted would choose the "very likely" to vote option (or the interviewers would choose it for them), and that voters would report their actual choice as the candidate they would support "if the election were held today." So one way or another, the choices of those early voters are probably included in the surveys we have before us.


Daniel T:

There is an important point of clairification. Early voting *at the polls* has only been going on for the last 15 days. However, it's my understanding that abstentee voting by mail has been going on since early December. I have no data on what percentage of the 400K votes were at the polls vs by mail, nor do I know anything about the exact wording of the voter screens. My point is that "early voting" and "abstentee voting" are not the same concept in Flordia.



Daniel T:

Let me add the following.

My point is that when Rudy talks about early voting I think he means "all people who voted before election day" not just people who engaged in "early voting at the polls." Voter screens would need to be quite precise because if they ask "did you engage in early voting", as opposed to "did you already vote" these words mean very divergent things in FL.


Daniel T:

WOW. The AP is now reporting that "About one million absentee and early-voting ballots were cast".

If 400-450K of those are early voting then about 600K are absentee, most of which would have be filed before mid-Jan. when Rudy's poll numbers were higher.

I really don't know if Rudy is giving the BS or not but its really really regretable that there is no solid independent way to verify his claims. If he turns out to be right, it's going to make the polling errors to date in NH and SC look minor.


Mad Dog:

What time to polls close in Florida? I saw 7ET on one site and 8ET on another. Argh!


Daniel T:

It 7pm in the south and 8pm in the north, essentially after 8pm results should start coming in.



Interesting discussion but I haven't seen any mention anywhere of absentee voting by military. Florida has a huge number of deployed military - I would think that some voted absentee (I mean, they are fighting for democracy) and John McCain might have picked up a disproportionate share of these absentee ballots. Am I missing something??


Daniel T:

Mark. It looks like your assumptions were right; Rudy's number are very close to the polling and he was just talking BS. I just hate assuming because we know were that can leave us. As you note, perhaps this is an area that can be more fully discussed in the methodology sections of the various polls, so it is clearer for all concerned.


The early in-person voting period in Florida ran from 01/14 to 01/27. The absentee voting period was longer, beginning Christmas Day 2007 (Fla. was the true 'first in the nation'). In total, there were 275,412 Democratic and 288,057 Republican early votes cast. If the quoted 1,000,000 figure is correct, then slightly more people used early voting than voted absentee.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest 15% of Republican voters voted early, and potentially the same again absentee, so an effect on Giuliani's vote seems reasonable. However, the majority of the early voting was conducted last week (we see the steepest rise after Nevada(D)/SC(R)), but Giuliani's poll numbers started crashing even before the New Year, so it's hard to be sure.

(The specific details of absentee votes (unlike early votes) are restricted by law to campaigns and political parties until after the election, so no independent analysis of them will be available for at least a few days.)



more on florida early voting at http://earlyvoting.net.

thanks, james!

- paul gronke


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