In total, 486,786 valid early votes have been cast at this point with 398,635 (82%) of these being cast in the Democratic primary. Assuming these numbers don't change, about 13% of registered Democrats cast their votes early for this primary while 5% of unaffiliated North Carolinians voted early in the Democratic primary. It is hard to know just how much of the total vote that early voters will represent, but in 2004, about 1.5 million voted for John Kerry in the general election. Perhaps that gives us a sense of what a large turnout primary will look like. If we assume that turnout in the Democratic primary will be in the 1.5 - 2 million range, then between one-fourth and one-fifth of the electorate has already voted. If turnout is going to be less, then early voters represent an even larger share.
What do these early voters look like? Below, I present the gender, race, and party registration figures for those voting early in the Democratic primary.
|% of Early Voters|
The most remarkable figure to note here is that 40% of early voters were African-American, a figure that is up from 37% earlier this week. It is important to note that most of the polls being conducted in North Carolina are assuming African-American turnout of about one-third; if it is closer to 40%, then this clearly will advantage Obama.
Clinton's most loyal supporters, white women, make up about one-third of early voters. The "swing" group of white men make up nearly one-quarter of early voters in North Carolina. Finally, voters registered as "unaffiliated" make up 16% of the electorate so far.
If we assume that Obama wins 85% of the African-American vote, just 30% of white women and 40% of white men and then we split the remaining 6% of the early voters (those in the "other" category) evenly between Obama and Clinton, then Obama is currently leading Clinton among early voters by a margin of 56-44%. In terms of raw numbers, that would give Obama a lead of somewhere close to 50k votes. And this estimate is probably slightly on the conservative side since Obama could very well win 90% or more of the black vote and could do a bit better among white men and women (indeed, reader "x curmudgeon" notes that surveys show early voters going 63-31% in favor of Obama).
So, Obama is almost certainly ahead by a significant amount at this point. The question is whether the composition of the electorate voting on the day of the primary will look like early voters. If it does, then Obama should have a very good day. But if African American turnout on the day of the primary doesn't match that among early voters, then this race could end up being much closer.
Update: dean4ever has posted a similar analysis today.