Dear Democrats, breathe about Florida


Biden-Harris rally in Orlando. Photo credit: Joe Biden for President. Credit.

Almost 70 million Americans have already cast their ballots in this year's presidential race, with a week to go, and the speculations and fears about what the numbers mean is rampant. In Florida, over the past week, Democrats have lead in early voting, but the margin of ballots cast by registered Democrats over those cast by registered Republicans has dropped significantly, to about 300,000 votes out of 6.5 million cast as of this writing (Source: US Election Project). This makes Democrats - already superstitious about the trauma of 2016 - a nervous wreck, given that everyone expects a large surge of Republican voters on election day. Hillary Clinton had almost a 100,000 early vote lead in 2016 and still lost the state by roughly 113,000 votes to Trump.

But on the other hand, in polling that is now taking into account those who have already voted, Biden appears to have retained a significant and stable lead in national preference numbers as well as a smaller but equally stable lead in the battleground states - a map that, I might add, Joe Biden has expanded significantly. Even a year ago, no one thought Texas and Georgia were going to be neck-and-neck.

Biden also maintains a stable lead on one of the most important issues on the minds of voters: the coronavirus outbreak, and he has pulled about even with Trump on who would be best for the economy.

So let's look at the data in Florida, where it says Biden truly is, and how much of a surge of Republican voters Trump will need to carry the state.

According to a poll released this morning but conducted between October 23 and 25 by the Florida Atlantic University, Biden has a slight, within-the-margin-of-error lead over Trump of 50% to 48%. This includes leaners. That, without a doubt, is too close for comfort, but it's some of the internal numbers that may give Democrats a reason to exhale.

This is the most critical of the internals: FAU's poll shows Biden leading Trump by a 13-point margin among those who have already voted, and the poll estimates that 54% of likely Florida voters had already cast their ballots. An ABC News report from October 25 estimates about 40.6% of registered voters in Florida had already cast their ballots by that point, or roughly 5.7 million voters.

Biden's huge lead among those who have already voted, who may well have by that point comprised a majority of all voters in Florida, is a result of early voters not registered with either major party breaking heavily for the Democrat. This would seem to be in line with a report in the Tampa Bay Times that Florida's "Tik-Tok generation" - your voters between 18 and 34 - are showing up in force. Young voters have already increased their turnout by almost 50%.

But what does this actually all mean as we get closer to election day?

Let's assume for the moment that the FAU poll is roughly correct about its turnout estimates. It is likely to be, since its estimates, combined with state data of who had already voted by the point this poll was concluded, would mean a total turnout in Florida of 10.6 million, over a million more votes than cast in 2016, and a turnout rate of 76%.

With 54% of voters having already cast a ballot, a 55-42 gap means that Biden had banked slightly over 3.1 million raw votes, or 29.6% of all votes expected to be cast, whereas Trump banked slightly under 2.4 million votes, or 22.6% of all votes expected to be cast. To win, Trump must make up the 7-point gap with jus 46% of the votes left to be cast, or he'd have to win all post-Oct 25 votes by over 15 points, or by about a 57-42 margin.

That's not necessarily impossible, but remember that Trump would need to capture a higher and higher share of the remaining vote every day that additional ballots are cast and that Trump doesn't beat Biden's total by 15%. Just beating Biden's totals isn't enough, he has to win that big or bigger every day in order not to make it more difficult to win.

So, how's that going?

Since the survey, another 800,000 or so additional Floridians have voted for a total of 6.5 million, reaching about 61% of that expected total turnout of 10.6 million. At the time of the survey, registered Democrats led registered Republicans by about 400,000 in the number of returned ballots. That is down to 300,000 now. A 100,000 net advantage among 800,000 votes - assuming the non-party early vote is evenly split - is an impressive 12.5-point margin, but still not quite the 15 they need.

The 12.5-point net margin over the past few days for Republicans is also most likely overstated quite a bit, since it assumes that early voters not registered with either major party are splitting their votes evenly. As the FAU and most other surveys show, that's not the case.

So even with their best case scenario, as of right now, Florida Republicans are not catching up at the rate they need to. In fact, there may be some early signs they are starting to backslide.

After the registered Democratic ballot lead was cut to roughly 270,000 over the weekend, it has actually grown back to just over 300,000. As a sidenote, a great number of Democratic ballots are coming from traditionally red counties, suggesting there is more ballots to be had from the bluer counties.

But the biggest problem Republicans have is, as I continue to say, the universe of voters is finite. The more Republicans vote early, the smaller their election day lead can be. 48% of registered Republicans in the state have already voted, compared with 52% of registered Democrats and 36% of others. Democrats have also had better success in turning out first time and sporadic voters, Democratic data firm Hawkfish said in an analysis reviewed by independent and Republican experts.

So let's recap the basics to keep in mind when you are looking at numbers from Florida, but also from other states.

  1. There is a limited universe of voters. To the extent Republican voting makes up some of the gap with Democratic early voting before election day, those voters would be taken off the table from any election day 'surge.'

  2. The more Democratic votes that get "banked", the more Joe Biden and Democrats can go after (a) less frequent Democratic voter and turn them out, and (b) less persuadable, but not completely lost, party switchers. Republicans' reliance on voters who vote later in the calendar makes them have to defend more of their own turf later in the game.

  3. If the polling models underestimated first-time and infrequent voters, of which there are more Biden votes than Trump votes, margins can swing significantly in Biden's favor.

Does Biden have it in the bag in Florida? No, and no one ever does. Can Trump still win Florida? Yes, despite pulling ads from the state with a week go, he still can.

There's no letting up, but considering that Hillary Clinton entered election day with just a 90,000 Democratic ballot lead in Florida - at that point also of 6.5 million early ballots cast - Joe Biden appears to be in a stronger position.

No election - especially in Florida - is ever over until it's over. But with  the hard work that the Biden campaign and Florida Democrats are doing on the ground is on the right track.