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Katie Marriner

A volunteer from Organizing for America, which is affiliated with President Barack Obama’s campaign, called me last Wednesday. She asked me who I was planning to vote for in the presidential election and followed up by asking me if I was registered. Once I told her that I was, she asked if I had thought about early voting. She told me that the Obama campaign is encouraging early voting to “avoid long lines on election day.” After a discussion we had a few classes ago, I decided to research other reasons for the Obama campaign to push early voting.

35% of voters are expected to vote early this year. This is up by approximately 5 percentage points from the 2008 election. In 2008, battleground states saw a much higher turn-out from early voters than the national average. (Source)

I have chosen to focus on three ways that early voting affects campaign strategies, specifically focusing on President Obama’s campaign: (1) partisan voters are more likely to vote early, (2) an “October Surprise” and (3) the convenience of early voting for certain demographics.

Paul Gronke, Director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College, said there is a common profile among early voters: they are decided.  There is no difference in the amount of Republicans that vote versus the amount of Democrats. (Source) However, according to an anonymous senior campaign aide for Obama, the campaign saves time and money if they lock-in votes from their supporters before election day. He told the Chicago Tribune that once they confirm an absentee ballot is sent, they no longer send that person mail, call them or knock on his or her door. This gives volunteers time to sway undecided voters and save their resources for getting out the vote on election day.  In addition to targeting strong supporters as the Obama campaign is doing, a spokesman for Mitt Romney’s campaign said they target people who are planning to vote Republican but can not be trusted to keep  that stance based on past voting history. (Source)

Michael D. Shear, a blogger for the New York Times posted on the political blog, The Caucus, about the “October Surprise.” The term refers to the possibility that an event will change the course of the election at the last minute. He cites examples of 2004 when Osama Bin Laden released a video on October 29 and in 1980 when voters were waiting for the release of the Iranian hostages. He outlines 5 possible events that could shift the electorate: foreign policy, the economy, a debate moment, investigative news or some other unprecedented event. Shear cites the situation in Benghazi and the last two job reports as events that could shift the poll numbers. (Source) If the situation in Libya worsens or if the last two job reports show little or no change, President Obama could lose support before November 6.

Michelle Obama was recently in the swing state of North Carolina talking to college students. She described scenarios that could happen on election day. “The alarm goes off late on election day,” she said. “Maybe your forgot what day it is.” (Source) The main target for early voting is to demographics that are least likely to show up to the polls on election day whether it be because they do not have transportation to get there or they simply forgot. Though Gronke said there is no demographic that turns out to early vote more than another, the convenience that early voting provides is pushed by campaigns that target those that are least likely to show up on election day. (Source)

Less than half of the nation votes before election day, but the number of early voters is growing by a few percentage points each election cycle. The importance of locking in votes before major, number-shifting events aids the candidate that holds the lead. Locking in the votes from those that already support the candidate (whether he is in the lead or not) will shrink the amount of voters the candidate will have to use time and money on. By using these tactics, the format of the campaign is likely to change over the next election cycles as early voting becomes more popular.

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