We all know that voting is going to look different this year. More Americans will have the opportunity to vote early than ever before, and these changes to how people vote will likely have a major impact on how quickly votes are counted. Instead of the vast majority of votes being tallied by Election Day, it may take days or – in some cases – weeks for all legal votes to be counted.
This has led some to theorize that there will be a “Red Mirage” in November. The theory is simple: because Joe Biden supporters are more likely to vote by mail (VBM), election night returns, based just on the counting of in-person Election Day ballots, are likely to hint at a surprise victory for Donald Trump.
Campaigns with access to modern voter files, predictive analytics, and up-to-date data on which voters have requested mail-in ballots or already voted early will no doubt be prepared to account for this lag in reporting. By creating an accurate model and updating it as new data is made available by the secretary of state or local election officials, campaigns will know how many ballots have been counted and how many are outstanding.
Success relies upon solving for the lag in reporting ahead of time by ensuring you have access to accurate, timely data, at the level of the individual voter. If you don’t, your field, paid media and voter protection programs will at best squander significant resources and, at worst, cost your candidate votes.
Now, while this “Red Mirage” theory has merit, Trump-world turned the phrase itself into a nonsensical conspiracy theory, suggesting that this analysis about the timing of vote counting was somehow a Democratic attempt to “rig” the election. The conspiracy theory is part of Trump’s core strategy of suppressing VBM efforts during the pandemic and generally sowing anti-democratic chaos in the event he should lose the election. (Note: Business Insider has a good fact check on this conspiracy theory.)
There’s little doubt that GOP strategists are cursing Trump’s strategy of maligning VBM, as Republicans have in cycles-past successfully mastered the tactic to bank votes among their base. By demonizing mail-in voting, Trump has taken the seemingly anodyne act of voting by mail and polarized it along partisan lines to the point where polling suggests Republican partisans now believe that voting by mail is inherently corrupt. This could have a profound impact on the outcome this year.
My team is polling extensively in targeted, swing legislative districts in three battleground states this year: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa. We have observed that how you intend to vote is incredibly predictive of who you intend to vote for in 2020.
The graph below, based on more than 18,000 survey interviews in Pennsylvania, over 6,000 interviews in Iowa, and some 2,000 interviews in Wisconsin, lays the data out clearly. While Trump holds a solid edge over Joe Biden among those voters who tell us they will vote in-person on Election Day, Biden absolutely dominates Trump among those who tell us they will vote by mail. In fact, Biden is leading by a 3:1 margin in Iowa, and more than a 5:1 margin in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Trump’s rhetoric is clearly polarizing how American voters are likely to exercise their franchise this year, and our data suggests that could be damaging to him, regardless of when the votes are actually counted.
Ben Lazarus is a pollster and Director of Research Solutions at TargetSmart.