Judging early voting numbers is always challenging. While the campaigns are indeed “banking” voters, it’s hard to say whether these are partisans who were all but assured to vote on Election Day, or the tougher, marginal voters who might have otherwise stayed home. In a state like Iowa, where the GOP holds a registration advantage, there’s nothing about a strong early voting performance by Democrats that precludes Election Day Republican turnout from leveling the playing field.
But in states where one party has a clear registration advantage, a strong performance by that party in early voting augurs well for their ability to translate their voter registration edge into actual votes by Election Day. In that regard, one place where the early vote tallies should be very troubling to Boston is Nevada. Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 90,000 votes in the Silver State, so Romney’s path to victory depends on either a poor Democratic turnout, or an extremely strong performance among unaffiliated voters or registered Democrats.
Early voting is just underway in Nevada, but the early signs suggest that Romney wouldn’t be wise to count on a poor Democratic turnout. More than 100,000 Nevadans have already voted, representing perhaps as much as 12 percent of the expected Nevada electorate. So far, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 14 points, 49-35. In Las Vegas’ Clark County, home to 70 percent of the Nevada electorate, registered Democrats have an even larger 53-31 point advantage—about the same as the 52-31 point advantage that Democrats held in early voting eight years ago. In 2008, Obama won Nevada by 12 points, so presumably Obama has room to underperform his '08 performance.
A strong Democratic turnout in Nevada early voting blocks one of Romney's two possible routes to victory in Nevada. In 2008, 70 percent of voters cast ballots early, so we'll have a pretty good idea of whether the Republican route to victory in Nevada by means of low turnout remains viable. If not, Romney will need a very strong performance among independents and registered Democrats, but so far there isn't much evidence that Romney is about to win Nevada independents by such a large margin. After all, the polls show Obama in the lead.