Five days out, nearly 5 million have voted; party splits tighten
Five days from election day, Florida has cast a record 4.9 million early and mail ballots as of Thursday's first reports. Republicans clung to a lead of 0.2 percent over Democrats in total votes cast or about 12,000 votes at 8 a.m. Thursday.
That's two-tenths of 1 percent. If two candidates are separated by less than .25 percent after all the votes are in, a manual recount of the ballots is required by law. Just sayin'.
At this point in 2012, when President Barack Obama narrowly won re-election in Florida, Democrats led narrowly, but the turnout at this point in 2012 was much smaller. The 2016 turnout so far is already well over half of what it was in the 2012 election, when 8.5 million people voted and the turnout was 71.5 percent.
At the current pace, Florida could set an all-time record for the number of people participating in a statewide election. The turnout as of Thursday morning was 4,867,113, or 37.8 percent of the total electorate of 12.9 million.
Higher turnout generally favors Democrats. But this election has attracted an unusually high number of low propensity voters, people who have voted in none or 1 of the four past statewide elections, in addition to people voting for the first time.
In Republican-leaning Pasco County, more people have already returned mail ballots than in 2012 and early voting is also on a record-setting pace. "We're seeing an amazing number of first time voters," Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said. "The turnout has been unbelievable at this point." Advantage Donald Trump.
More and more unaffiliated and minor party voters are voting. As of Thursday morning, NPAs/others accounted for 20.2 percent of all votes cast (together they comprise 27 percent of the overall Florida electorate). NPAs are more likely to vote early than by mail, data shows.
Early voting has surpassed 1 million with four days of early voting to go, and Democrats have a small lead (41.9 percent to 38.5 percent for Republicans).
Early voting concludes Sunday in the state's largest counties with a Democratic, church-based push to get African-American voters to the polls on the first Sunday of the month known as Souls to the Polls. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tallahassee are all expected to have early voting drives on the Sunday before election day to improve a sluggish black turnout that has alarmed some Democrats.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale wrote Thursday that for Hillary Clinton to win Florida, statewide black turnout has to approach its share of registered voters. Blacks make up 13.5 percent of the electorate in Florida.
Digging deeper into the voter file, Schale sees a surge of first-time voters in central Florida, where many newly-arrived Puerto Ricans are voting for the first time. In Orange County, Schale found, 29 percent of Hispanics who have voted are first-time voters and in Osceola it's 31 percent. Schale says 55 percent of Orange County Hispanics have voted in no more than 1 of the last 3 elections, and the number in Osceola is 59 percent.
A longer early voting schedule still looks like a key variable. Four years ago, as part of the controversial elections bill known as HB 1355, the Legislature decreed that early voting end on the Saturday before the election. Lawmakers changed the law and expanded early voting locations and times, from a mandatory eight days, ending Saturday, to an optional 14 days, ending Sunday.