More than half a million “nonvoters” in Georgia and Texas actually voted early this year

First-time voters are doing peachy.
First-time voters are doing peachy.
Image: Reuters/Leah Millis
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Democrats in reliably conservative Georgia and Texas tried a new tack this year: they bet on nonvoters.

The strategy seems to be paying off. The number of first-time voters who cast an early ballot in those states grew by more than 300% compared to turnout in the 2014 midterm elections, according to data compiled by Democratic political consulting firm TargetSmart. That’s nearly 600,000 voters.

Early voting figures are fairly limited as predictors of the final tally. While they can serve as a gauge for voter excitement, they don’t spell out party affiliation. Still, the big jump in newbie voters, especially young people and minorities, is a hopeful sign for Democratic candidates in close races in Texas and Georgia, states where those groups don’t generally vote in big numbers.

The big question now is whether the boost will be enough for overcome regular Republican voters.

Voting history

TargetSmart, which collects early data from local elections offices, breaks it down by how often people vote. Here’s the increase in voters compared to turnout in the 2014 midterm elections.

While new voters showed up at much higher rates than their more experienced counterparts, they make a smaller share of the electorate.

Courting minorities and young voters

Bringing out the minority vote was a big challenge for Democratic candidates like Texas’s Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for the US Senate, and Stacey Abrams, who’s vying for the Georgia’s Governor’s mansion. Both states have large shares of Hispanic and black populations, which usually vote at lower rates than Americans as a whole.

The early voting data show that minorities did turn out, whether lured by Democratic candidates or other reasons. Younger voters, too, went to the polls in bigger numbers than in the past midterm elections.

Here’s the breakdown of gains vs. 2014 by age, and race and ethnicity:

Despite increased participation, minorities and people under 40 years old are still outnumbered by whites and middle-aged Americans.

Less excitement in Florida

Democrats faced similar odds in the Sunshine State as in Georgia and Texas. Donald Trump won Florida in 2016, but not by a wide margin. Key races there are also close, including for the US Senate and the Governor’s mansion, polls show. The state also has big minority populations.

Like O’Rourke and Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Florida, also went after new voters and minorities. But participation among those groups didn’t expand by as much as in the other two states. (One reason, perhaps, is that Floridians already voted at much higher rates than Texans and Georgians.)

If early voting does mirror early voting, and proves partisanship models right, Democrats across the country will likely be poring over get-out-the-vote efforts in those three states for lessons for future elections.