The last minute campaign frenzy

As of this morning, over 95 million votes have already been cast, about 70% of the total votes cast in the 2016 election, with expectations that it will reach over 100 million by election day morning.. Given that Trump has been bad-mouthing early voting, it is likely that it is his supporters who will dominate in the in-person voting numbers and those are the tallies that will be reported early in the counting process.

As is always the case, the last day before an election sees candidates in a frenzy of holding campaign rallies and advertising blitzes in an effort to sway those election day in-person voters. Today Trump is holding five rallies in four states (North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) and while Joe Biden is slightly less frenetic and going to just two states (Ohio and Pennsylvania). All these states were won by Trump in 2016.

It is not clear to me that this last minute campaigning has any significant effect. After the election is over, we see analyses about the way that independent and undecided voters ‘swung’ to one candidate or another at the very end but it is not clear how much of this is them being actually persuaded by these last minute efforts and how much that they had already decided (even if not willing to acknowledge it, sometimes even to themselves) and for some reason, were just waiting until the last minute to formalize what had already been decided.

I think that much of the impetus for these last minute efforts comes from the candidate and campaigns wanting to fire up the enthusiasm of their supporters but, even more importantly, to persuade themselves in the event that they lose that they had made ever possible effort, that they had ‘left it all on the field’, to use a commonly used phrase in sports that one hears after a close contest.

It reminds me of students who pull an all-nighter just before a big exam, trying to vacuum up every possible bit of information in case that it is asked. I never felt that such efforts are useful. In Sri Lanka as students we had many big exams that we had to study for that could make or break our academic futures. I made it a practice to study in a systematic way for them but at the very end, I would ease up, feeling that a good night’s sleep and being relaxed would more than compensate for any tiny bit of new knowledge that I might have gained by an all-nighter. I would sometimes even go and see a film the day before a big exam. Going into an exam tired and frazzled and desperately trying to remember random pieces of information just did not seem to me to be a good strategy. For me at least, that approach worked.

Last minute election campaigning is different of course in that election day itself does not require anything of the candidate and they can just unwind. So there is nothing lost except time, money, and energy in running all over the place the day before. But I think that it is unlikely that it will sway many votes. The die has already been cast.


  1. Holms says

    Given that Trump has been bad-mouthing early voting, it is likely that it is his supporters who will dominate in the in-person voting numbers and those are the tallies that will be reported early in the counting process.

    I see this as the accepted fact everywhere, but… why? Why aren’t early votes counted early?

  2. flex says

    @1 Holms,

    The individual states determine how they run elections, elections are not run federally (historical reasons). So some states allow early counting of absentee ballots (which includes mail-in, drop-off, and early-voting ballots; they are all the same thing), and others don’t allow counting of absentee ballots until election day. My state doesn’t allow counting the absentee ballots until the polls open on election day, and they probably won’t finish until Friday.

    Some states, contrary to what Mano has mentioned, actually count the votes in the order they were received; which is an unholy nightmare. This means that before they can start counting the votes cast on election day, they have to count all he absentee ballots first. There are only a couple which do this mad thing, but it means that votes cast in person on election day may not be counted until a week or two later.

  3. DrVanNostrand says

    The logic behind not counting early votes early is that they don’t want leaks about early results that might impact voters on election day. I don’t personally agree with that policy, but that’s the typical justification.

    The thing that really infuriates me is that states like PA and WI can’t even begin processing early ballots until election day. There’s no good reason to prohibit opening those ballots, verifying voter status and signatures, and getting the ballots ready to run through the scanner. I suspect the real reason state legislatures make those pointless regulations is to discourage early and mail in voting. (I’ll let you guess which party supports those rules)

  4. Trickster Goddess says

    Last minute rallies probably won’t change any votes, but the local publicity might spur some people to go vote if they haven’t already or hadn’t made any plans to.

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