Charles Stewart’s First 2014 Survey Data Shows Continued Drift Away From “Election Day”

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[Image courtesy of MIT]

Professor Charles Stewart of MIT has released the first data from his 2014 edition of the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) – and it shows that the country’s growing embrace of alternatives to the polling place continues to weaken the notion of an “Election Day.” The Pew Charitable Trusts (which provides support for the SPAE) has more in its release:

A nationwide study of voters’ experiences during November’s midterm federal election found that approximately 40 percent of respondents cast their ballots early or by mail. The 2014 Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE)–conducted by Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin distinguished professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts–surveyed more than 10,000 registered voters nationwide. Among the findings:

  • 41 percent of voters cast ballots before Election Day. 
           o 16 percent voted early in person or in-person absentee.
           o 25 percent voted by mail.
           o 59 percent voted in person on Election Day.

This continues the shift of more voters casting ballots before Election Day. In 2008, 37 percent voted in person on Election Day, and 39 percent did in 2012, according to the SPAE.

  • In 15 states, the majority of votes were cast before Election Day. This was the case in 14 states in 2012 and 11 states in 2008.
  • Not all mail ballots are returned by mail. Nationwide, more than 1 in 4 voters who received their ballots in the mail dropped them off in person at an official location such as a drop box or polling place.
  • Not surprisingly, voters reported shorter waits to cast ballots than in 2012. Eighty-eight percent said they waited less than 10 minutes in 2014, compared with 67 percent in 2012.
  • The peak time for voting on Election Day was between 10 and 11 a.m. Thirteen percent of respondents said they voted during that window. 

This data isn’t really surprising, but it confirms the anecdotal evidence that many voters are increasingly moving away from Election Day to cast their ballots – and highlights the growth in importance of services like dropboxes for ballots in communities where it’s approved.

Stewart’s SPAE is an invaluable source of intelligence on “consumer” behavior – namely how, when and where voters cast ballots – and I look forward to the additional analysis of the data that’s forthcoming. Until then, you can play with the data that’s already been released here.

Thanks as always to Charles for this project and to Pew for helping to make it happen!

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