Turnout : The race to the polls in the FL 2020 presidential election
Figures in this article and FL results tracking stored in this google spreadsheet
Florida is critical in the road to the White House
Florida is one of the most important battleground swing states for the 2020 election for two main reasons
- Large number of electoral votes — 29
- It will most likely be conclusive on election night because Florida counts absentee ballots early.
Without FL, chances of a Trump victory become highly unrealistic, <1% according to fivethirtyeight, and you can do your own math to realize how unlikely this is.
Florida is always close, and this race is no exception. In 2016 Trump won FL by 1.2% and in the well-known Bush-Gore election of 2000 where the race was so close it triggered a recount the final vote was decided by only 537 votes, a practical coin-toss.
So what do we know about the current state of the race in Florida? One way of looking at the FL map is an analysis of the demographics, past elections to gain an insight into how different voter groups may behave and this will reveal a familiar story of seniors, white college educated, suburban, Cubans, Puerto Rican’s the difference between rural Panhandle, metro Miami-Date and a whole lot of suburban-rural in-between in I-4 corridor, Martin, Collier County etc..
The state of the race in Florida
But we are now only 6 days out until election night, <5% of voters are undecided at this point and voter registration for mail-in ballot has closed. The current fivethirtyeight weighted polling average has Biden ahead by +1.5 forecast and a 62% chance of winning.
When it comes to how voters have said they will vote, registered Democrats and Republicans both are highly partisan with <10% switching to the other party respectively (based on average of UNF and FAU poll taken in late Oct).
Tracking the results
Early voting in FL started Oct-19 and according to the General Election Early Vote tracking website, 48% of Registered Voters in FL have already cast their vote either by mail-in or early in-person (EIP) and that number continues to grow daily. Of those who have already cast their vote, 41% are Dem, 37.5% Rep, and 21.4% Ind. Since last Sat until Wed Oct-28, on average there are 537k new votes daily or 3.72% of 14.4 mil registered voters. During this period on average these ballots are coming at a rate of 34.0% from Dem, 42.5% Rep, and 23.5% Ind with Dem preferring to send by mail, Rep preferring to vote EIP and Ind falling somewhere in between. There is some signs within that period to suggest that the composition may be slowing for Dem, who have already cast their votes early and picking up for Rep and Ind. There is also evidence of a weekend surge.
If we apply the results from the UNF and FAU polls which ask voters whether they have already voted, how they intend to vote, and who the candidate was that they voted for — among those 48% of votes already cast Biden would have an estimated lead of +3.99%. Given that the rate of new votes added everyday is seeing a shrinking proportion of Dem and rising share of Rep and Ind, we can forecast that the race will tighten between now and election day.
So just how much could it tighten?
Variables that will decide the race
So at this point there are 3 open sources of uncertainty
- Poll error
- Margin from Independents (currently 5.8% from blend of UNF and FAU polls)
- Relative turnout between the Dem/Lean Dem and Rep/Lean Rep
The biggest source of uncertainty is polling error which is usually 3–4% so if we are talking about a race that will be decided by 1% or less that’s well within the margin of error which is why FL is rated as a toss-up state. The thing about polling error is that it can just as easily go one way as another, so there isn’t much basis on which to speculate one way or another. Related to that is the margins for each of the 3 groups. While it may be less likely for either Dem to switch for Trump or visa-versa, a more sensitive group is the Independent voters who currently are at 5.8% but small shifts in that number can make a difference in a tight race where the other two parties are essentially split.
So when the margins are as close as they are, its all about turnout. The 2016 turnout rates by party registration were 74.4% for Dem, 81.2% Rep and 66% Ind. If 2020 turns out with the same rates as 2016 based on current polls that would predict a Trump win, so for Biden to have a chance Dem + Ind need to outperform their 2016 turnout and close the gap with Rep.
Another way of looking at the turnout race is to see how much more turnout the Rep need over Dem to secure a Trump victory. As of Oct-29 a new set of polls came out with average Ind voters at 9.9% Biden-Trump. For these margins Rep would need to out-perform their +6.8% turnout advantage over the Dem to +7.7% or 82.1% for the same 74% Dem turnout as 2016. For extremely high Dem turnout >90% however, it becomes impossible for the Rep to win because it pushes their required turnout above 100%.
Evidence from polls suggests that turnout this year could be in the mid 80’s or higher and the self-reported numbers are similar between Dem and Rep. So if voters actual behavior matches what they express in the polls, its bad news for Trump. Typically structural barriers disproportionately impact Dem voters though so there is good reason to doubt whether both Dem and Rep will execute their intended turnout at the same rates. Still though, historically low turnout is more a function of voter attitude and enthusiasm than structural barriers. This year both parties are highly energized and motivated and there are multiple opportunities for them to get their vote counted.
Only time will tell.