There is a bit of a debate between Michael McDonald, George Mason University Political Scientist (not the Doobie Brother) and Nate Silver, founder of 538.com about how to read early voting data. Essentially, McDonald argues that you've got to compare this year's early voting data to early voting data in previous years to understand what it means, while Silver finds some usefulness in comparing to registration data (as I've been doing). Some are also debating whether early voting in 2008 is a better comparison or whether it's better to compare to 2006 (the last midterm year).
My goal is not to weigh into this debate, but to understand what's going on in WNC so I figured I would give fair time to the other side of this data-debate and compare the 2010 early voting data to 2006 early voting data on the same day of that election cycle to see if we can learn anything new. Each bar below represents the proportion that the group in question makes up of the total early voting electorate. So--to interpret one of the bars--the Democrats represent about .4 of the total early voting turnout in 2010.
The figure above reinforces some of the lessons we've learned by comparing turnout to voter registration, but it does tell us something slightly different: namely, independents seem to be turning out in greater numbers time time than they did in 2006. We could not see this difference using the way I've been looking at it before. Democratic turnout in the 11th district does seem to be down a bit and the Republican turnout is holding pretty steady compared to 2006. Maybe in our district it's not an "enthusiasm gap" with Republicans being more excited and mobilized than Democrats, but rather an "independent enthusiasm gap"