The race to Election Day has entered its final sprint.
More than 1.2 million vote-by-mail ballots have already been returned to elections officials across Florida. Early voting kicked off Monday in dozens of Florida counties.
It’s too early to know what those ballots hold, but that doesn’t mean the ballots can’t offer some insight into the 2016 election. In a briefing memo over the weekend, Ryan Tyson, the vice president of political operations at Associated Industries of Florida, outlined some of the trends campaign watchers are seeing so far this election cycle.
Millions of Floridians are expected to cast their ballot ahead of Election Day. Tyson said his team anticipates about 29 percent of total votes, or about 2.4 million votes cast, will be by mail this election. Tyson said he anticipates about 27 percent or more of the overall electorate will vote early.
While Republicans have typically had an edge over Democrats in vote-by-mail returns, Tyson said Democrats have increased their share of ballots returned by 185,000, while Republicans have only grown by 165,000.
Elections records show Republicans have returned 503,632 ballots, compared to 483,019 ballots returned by Democrats. Independent voters returned 219,698 ballots.
Boost in turnout
With just 16 days until Election Day, voters returned 451,322 more ballots than at the same point in 2012. But Tyson warned a boost in vote-by-mail returns doesn’t necessarily mean higher turnout.
“Contrary to popular belief, we don’t anticipate that it’s an indicator of higher-than-usual turnout,” wrote Tyson. “Rather, we would suggest the growth in the popularity of VBM is due to both parties’ continuing effort to move their early or Election Day voters forward.”
According to Tyson’s memo, 27 percent of both party’s returns were cast in person — either early or on Election Day — in 2012. The analysis showed 57 percent of Republicans voted by mail in 2012, while 54 percent of Democrats voted by mail in 2012.
“To us … it seems the clearest indicator of true strategic growth in the utilization of VBM is amongst low-propensity voters and voters who had vote history in 2012,” he wrote. “In both categories, the Democrats are ever-so-slightly outpacing the Republicans.”
Here’s what we know about the vote-by-mail electorate: They’re older, white, and from Southwest Florida.
According to Tyson’s memo, 82 percent of the vote-by-mail electorate is over the age of 50, “with 56 percent being over 65.” Millennials, or voters between the ages of 18 and 34, account for just 7 percent of vote-by-mail voters.
New registrants, defined by Tyson as people who have registered to vote since 2012, account for 12 percent of the returned ballots. About 81 percent of the current returns are considered “likely” voters.
Three-quarters (76 percent) of the current electorate is white, while Hispanic voters make up 11 percent of the electorate. Eight percent of those people casting ballots are African-American.
As for where the ballots are coming from, Tyson wrote that “as is usual in this phase of the election, Tampa and Fort Myers are disproportionately represented.”
One-third (33 percent) of the ballots have been returned from the Tampa media market, while 12 percent have come from the Fort Myers media market. Those markets will ultimately be about 24 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of the final geographic make-up of the electorate.
Independent voter profile
About 217,000 independent voters returned their ballots as of Saturday. For the most party, those voters reflect the overall profile of the vote-by-mail electorate.
According to Tyson’s memo, 74 percent of independent voters — described as no-major-party voters in his report — are white, and 76 percent are over the age of 50. Tyson reported 50 percent of independent voters returning ballots are over the age of 65.
About 61,000 independent voters have no voter history from 2012. Tyson said about 48 percent of those voters are whites over the age of 50, while 16 percent are Hispanic.
“This memo is merely intended to dive into the electorate as it exists today, 16 days from the General,” wrote Tyson. “With one full week of early voting in, we anticipate this memo will look a lot different next week as the electorate tends to get younger and less white during the second phase of voting.”