“It’s the youngest voters who are shifting the most,” Mr. Bonier said.
Such shifts can make it difficult for analysts and campaigns to look at past patterns, party affiliation and demographics and assess which side is winning.
Mr. Bonier pointed to Florida as an example of a state whose early vote totals send mixed signals.
At this point in 2018, Republicans made up a larger share of the 567,000 early voters in Florida than Democrats — by about seven percentage points. In 2020, Democrats were up 21 percentage points at this point in early voting, when 1.9 million people had cast their ballots. This year, Democrats are leading in early voting in Florida by 3.5 points, and early vote totals are around 845,000 so far.
“A Democratic partisan could look at that and say, ‘Well, look, we’re running way ahead, we were down seven at this point in ’18 and we’re up three now; that’s a 10 point margin swing, good for us,” Mr. Bonier said. “Republicans will look at it and say, ‘At this point in 2020, we were down 21. Now we’re only down three. Good for us.’”
Michael McDonald, a voter turnout expert at the University of Florida, said his clearest takeaway so far was that there is high interest in the election.
“I think we need to get past this potential Black Friday rush of voting that you get at the very beginning when the doors open,” he said. “But the fact that you’re even seeing it, that tells you that this isn’t going to be a low-turnout election. It’s just the question is going to be how high of a turnout election we’ll get.”
Georgia has perhaps seen the largest early surge. Each day since early in-person voting began on Monday, the state has set daily early vote turnout records for a midterm election. As of Friday, 519,300 voters had cast a ballot early in-person, compared with 304,800 in the same period in 2018, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.