More than 1 million Georgians have voted early (absentee or in-person) ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff election. The compact nature of the early voting period for the runoff makes it difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison with what occurred during the November general election.
Still, there are a number of notable trends that suggest an upside for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in his race against Republican Herschel Walker. This doesn’t mean Warnock is definitely going to win, but the data indicates you’d rather be Warnock than Walker right now.
When examining early voting, keep in mind we do not know how people are voting in the runoff. We know how voters as a group cast ballots in the general election. Groups that were more favorable for Warnock seem to be voting in larger numbers now compared with the general election when a similar number of early ballots were cast.
Remember too that Warnock got more votes than Walker in November, even though both failed to take a majority of the vote to avoid a runoff. This means Walker needs to gain more (or lose fewer) voters than Warnock in order to win.
Perhaps the best way to see if Walker voters are turning out in larger numbers is to look at race and age. Warnock won Black voters 90% to 8% in November’s general election. Walker won White voters 70% to 28%.
So far in early voting, Black voters make up a little more than 33% of the electorate, while White voters account for 54%. At a roughly similar point in the general election based on the number of early votes cast, about 31% of voters were Black and about 57% were White.
This may seem like a small difference, but given the large partisan gap between Black and White voters, it suggests that those who have gone to the polls so far are more Democratic than at a similar point in the general election.
I should note that a number of Democratic counties opened up early in-person voting sooner than Republican-leaning counties. That said, voters in all Georgia counties have been able to cast a ballot for a number of days now, and the racial voting gap between the general election and runoff has not gone away.
Moreover, the current trendline looks similar to what we saw two years ago in Georgia. Black voters made up a larger share of early voters in the 2021 Senate runoffs than at a similar period during the 2020 general election. And once all the votes were counted, it was clear that turnout in heavily Black counties saw less of a drop-off compared with other counties.
Democrats, of course, gained ground during the runoffs from the general election and captured two Senate seats in the process.
We don’t know if that will happen this time, but the racial makeup of the early electorate isn’t the only worrisome sign for Republicans.
Voters under 30 are about 7% of early voters so far. They were around 6% during the general election when a similar number of early votes had been cast. On the other end, voters 65 and older account for 43% of early voters at this point. During the general election, they were a little north of 44% at a similar stage.
And although the partisan gap between senior citizens and those under 30 isn’t as large as the one between White and Black voters, it was substantial in the general election. Those under 30 voted for Warnock by 29 points in the general election, while those 65 and older backed Walker by 17 points.
The difference in the age makeup of the electorate between the general election and the runoff so far is small. It’s still notable, though, especially in combination with the difference we’re seeing based on race.
This isn’t just about general election voters casting ballots at different times (i.e., earlier or later) compared with the general election, either. About 3% to 4% of the runoff electorate so far didn’t vote in the general election. Those voters are more likely to be Black and under 30 than early voters as a whole.
If nothing else, Republicans likely have to do better among the runoff ballots yet to be cast than they did with the remaining ballots at a similar point during the general election. Early voting ends on Friday.
Additionally, there may end up being fewer additional ballots cast from this point forward. Runoffs in Georgia generally have lower turnout than general elections, and control of the Senate is not dependent on the Georgia outcome.
Given the early vote patterns so far, this probably means Warnock is a little bit closer to the finish line than Walker.