Does early voting counter the enthusiasm gap?

There are myriad reports and anecdotes about how early voting numbers are favoring Barack Obama, making it much tougher for John McCain to win in certain states, especially with lower levels of enthusiasm for the GOP ticket.  This might very well be true, but the political scientist in me wonders about the perverse effects of ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

There are myriad reports and anecdotes about how early voting numbers are favoring Barack Obama, making it much tougher for John McCain to win in certain states, especially with lower levels of enthusiasm for the GOP ticket.  This might very well be true, but the political scientist in me wonders about the perverse effects of early voting.  It's not like I was a huge fan of it anyway, but the more I game this out, the more I wonder if the candidate with the more enthusiastic base is hurt by early voting.    Bear with me here.... Let's posit that a voter with greater enthusiasm for a candidate will be willing to incure greater costs to go and vote.  So, an enthusiastic voter is more willing to ignore foul weather or long lines at the polls to have their vote counted.  All well and good.  If you're the candidate with the more enthusiastic base, however, then this means you wouldn't necessarily be a huge fan of early voting.  Presumably, early voting reduces the costs of going to vote on Election Day, in the form of shorter lines and waiting times.  Therefore, the candidate with the less passinate base of support is helped by early voting, because supporters who would otherwise be turned off by long lines are now willing to vote.  If, on the other hand, all voters had to cast their ballot on Election Day, then the costs of voting would be higher, and the enthusiastic supporters would crowd out the more tepid voters.  There are two caveats to this.  First, if voting turnout is at the record levels predicted, then the effect I just described would be muted.  Second, if Obama is disproprtionately banking the early votes of his more tepid supporters, because of that option, then he's still better off.  Am I missing anything here? 

There are myriad reports and anecdotes about how early voting numbers are favoring Barack Obama, making it much tougher for John McCain to win in certain states, especially with lower levels of enthusiasm for the GOP ticket.  This might very well be true, but the political scientist in me wonders about the perverse effects of early voting.  It’s not like I was a huge fan of it anyway, but the more I game this out, the more I wonder if the candidate with the more enthusiastic base is hurt by early voting.    Bear with me here…. Let’s posit that a voter with greater enthusiasm for a candidate will be willing to incure greater costs to go and vote.  So, an enthusiastic voter is more willing to ignore foul weather or long lines at the polls to have their vote counted.  All well and good.  If you’re the candidate with the more enthusiastic base, however, then this means you wouldn’t necessarily be a huge fan of early voting.  Presumably, early voting reduces the costs of going to vote on Election Day, in the form of shorter lines and waiting times.  Therefore, the candidate with the less passinate base of support is helped by early voting, because supporters who would otherwise be turned off by long lines are now willing to vote.  If, on the other hand, all voters had to cast their ballot on Election Day, then the costs of voting would be higher, and the enthusiastic supporters would crowd out the more tepid voters.  There are two caveats to this.  First, if voting turnout is at the record levels predicted, then the effect I just described would be muted.  Second, if Obama is disproprtionately banking the early votes of his more tepid supporters, because of that option, then he’s still better off.  Am I missing anything here? 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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