The Obama campaign has invested quite a bit of energy in promoting early voting, so it probably gave Democrats heart palpitations on Monday when Gallup released a poll showing Mitt Romney with a big lead among those who've already cast ballots.
At first blush, with about 15% of the total numbers of votes already cast, these figures would suggest Romney is on his way to a significant victory next week. Indeed, Dave Weigel noted yesterday that the early-vote calculation "looks terrible" for President Obama's re-election prospects.
But there's another angle to consider: Gallup's numbers look at the national picture, and by all appearances, the election will come down to the key battleground states. Jon Walker had a good piece on this:
[I]n the important swing states Obama holds a big lead in the early vote. In Nevada and Iowa significantly more Democrats than Republican have voted already. Similarly, polling in Ohio shows Obama leads 63% to 36% among people who have voted.
I often think of the national polling like a "control group" in an election experiment. It is only in the swing states that the campaigns are really active. By comparing what happens in the swing states to what is happening in the non-swing states, you can try to separate broad trends from what is actually being accomplished by the physical campaigns.
The Obama campaign has been remarkably effective at getting its supporters to vote early, but only in the states in which they are heavily invested.
Team Obama appears to even be maintaining an early-voting blog on the subject, filled with optimism.
Obviously, a lot of this may be hype, spin, and p.r., but it's worth remembering that a Republican strategist in Florida told fellow GOP officials this week that Democrats are "cleaning our clock" when it comes to turning out early voters.
We'll get all the facts soon enough, but I don't think the Gallup report should make Republicans too happy or Democrats too despondent.