Monday, November 7, 2016

Cinema Democratica Exclusive: Conversation With Ohio

With the early-voting data out of Florida and Nevada so encouraging for Team Blue, your faithful correspondent turned his sights to trying to get a better handle on what's happening in Ohio. As luck would have it, a seasoned political reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Andrew J Tobias, was gracious enough to take time from his impossibly hectic schedule to talk with CinemaDemocratica on the record about where things stand in the Buckeye state, and to bandy some possible theories as to why. Links for following Mr. Tobias on social media are provided at the conclusion of this column.

CinemaDemocratica (CD): Thank you for agreeing to do this. In your story about early voting in Ohio, datelined October 28th, you indicated some distressing signals for Democrats. Have things changed since that time?

Tobias: The Ohio Secretary of State’s office unfortunately has not released statewide data for over a week, so any information I have is out of date. However, Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) remains down in overall early-voting turnout through Sunday, as compared to the same day in 2012. The county is down 12 percent, and Cleveland itself is down 22 percent. For some reason, turnout is up in Franklin County (Columbus) and Hamilton County (Cincinnati). 

CD: Do we have any demographic information regarding the makeup of these early voters? 

Tobias: It’s not easy to get your hands on who has cast an early ballot in Ohio on a per-voter basis. Voters in this state aren’t required to declare a political affiliation, either. The political parties can figure this all out to some degree, and fill in the gaps using their own modeling and in-house polling data, but no one knows for sure.

One Democratic-party-aligned firm, Targetsmart, released some numbers that they found after being out in the field over the past week. Their findings suggest a higher than normal number of women voting early in Ohio, though one should keep in mind that their party-alignment could be introducing an unintended house bias.

Catalist, another Democratic-aligned firm, has done some more elaborate modeling of the early-voting cohort but their information is about a week old. At that time they were seeing a shift toward white voters, compared with the same point in 2012, with fewer African-Americans and young voters voting early than they did four years ago. However, this may have changed since there have now been two sessions of weekend in-person early voting.

CD: This is so interesting because it seems contrary to what we're seeing in other early-voting states such as Nevada and Florida. Do you think there is less enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Ohio, than there was for Barack Obama, or do you think there are other factors at work here?

Tobias: To some degree, the reduction in early voting activity can probably be explained by there being fewer available days for early voting this year in Ohio: remember, the [Republican-controlled] state legislature eliminated an entire week of early voting for this election. However, this effect may have been ameliorated somewhat by the extra weekend that was added back at the end. 

CD: So the reduction in early-voting days may be having the effect of suppressing the early vote, disproportionately, in the parts of the state most likely to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Tobias: I have some ideas, but I don’t have a definitive explanation for why early voting would be down in Cuyahoga County at the same time as it is up in Franklin and Hamilton. And I want to emphasize that I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of what’s happening in Franklin and Hamilton counties; all I know is what I’ve read in other media outlets. Another possible explanation -- and these aren't mutually exclusive -- is that the courts recently held that the Ohio Secretary of State's voter purge was unlawful, but the decision didn't come down in time to fully restore the affected persons' registration data, so they've had to vote provisionally. As a result, they didn't receive the same blanket mailing of absentee ballot application materials as the rest of the state, and may be lagging in their early-vote performance on this basis.

CD: In some other states we've been seeing some very interesting early-vote crosstabs to suggest that Secretary Clinton might be doing better than the polling data would have led us to believe. Specifically, she seems to be over-performing with respect to women and Hispanics. Given that we can't know for sure in Ohio, is there any reason to suspect that at least some of the depressed turnout in the Cleveland area could be offset by these same sorts of shifts in the usual Democratic-Party coalition?

Tobias: My colleague Jessie Balmert in Hamilton County has some interesting data on that. It seems that the early vote, at least there, is very slightly higher overall, but contains far fewer voters who claim no party affiliation. The numbers are: 103,269 vs 100,629 in 2012 -- but of the 2016 total, 7.2% more registered Democrats have voted early, compared with 9.2% more Republicans and 14% fewer persons with no party affiliation.

CD: Interesting! In Nevada and Florida, the scuttlebutt is that the non-affiliated early voters seem to be breaking for Clinton, in large measure because they tend to be Hispanic in those cases. But as I understand the Ohio landscape, Hamilton County tends to be more conservative. Could the decrease in non-affiliated early voters there be a sign of decreased enthusiasm for Donald Trump?

Tobias: It's certainly possible. Another commentator suggested -- without any objective data to support this, of course -- that many previously unaffiliated voters could have changed their registration to Republican during the primary season, for the purpose of casting a ballot against Donald Trump at that time. If those individuals didn't change their affiliation *back* to no party, it could be indicative that at least some of the apparent increase in Republicans' share of the early vote is a mirage of earlier strategic behavior on the part of persons whose principle purpose was to prevent Mr. Trump from becoming President. 

CD: I need to let you go back to work. Do you have any final thoughts on what we know, and can infer, and can't know or infer, from the early vote in Ohio? Anything you'd like to tell us about how you think the larger issue will resolve tomorrow night in the Buckeye State?

I think a lot of people have written off Ohio as a Trump state, but I’m not assuming anything. Recent public polling here is very close / showing mixed results, and I could see either candidate outperforming their polls, especially Clinton frankly. A colleague and I are filling out electoral maps later tonight as part of a friendly wager and I still haven’t decided which way I think Ohio will go.

You can follow Andrew J Tobias on twitter at

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