Where do those NC absentee votes come from?

A brief additional word about the NC absentee ballots.

A lot has been written about the two campaigns (particularly Obama) encouraging students who are away at college in safe red or blue states to vote absentee back home, if they come from battleground states.  NC provides one such illustration of this.

The NC early voting file includes the age of everyone who has returned an absentee ballot.  Let’s look at people who were 18-21 years of age, And, for the sake of linguistic convenience, let’s call these people “college students,” though we know that not all of these are.

First, only 7.4% of the returned absentee ballots in NC among college-aged students are from out-of-state.  That’s just a bit more than 6,000 ballots as of this writing.  While these numbers will undoubtedly grow as we get closer to Election Day, this is not a very significant proportion of the nearly 1 million “convenience votes” cast in that state thus far.

Second, proportionately more Democrats seem to be sending back absentee ballots if they are currently living in a Democratic state, and vice versa. For instance, 84% of the college-aged absentee ballots from DC were from registered Democrats, 87% from MA, 76% from RI, 83% from VT, and 78% from NY.  On the other hand, 59% of the college-aged absentee ballots sent from UT to NC were from registered Republicans, 44% from WY, 88% from ID, 67% from NE, and 48% from OK.

The accompanying two scatterplots, available here, show the relationship between the share of absentee ballots being sent by registered Democrats and the vote for Kerry in 2004 in the various states.

(When you look at the scatterplots, the two are identical, with one difference. On the left, I have indicated the number of returned balots by the size of the circles. On the right, I have indicated the abbreviation of the state.)

What does this mean? It can mean at least two things. First, it could mean that Democratic North Carolinians are more likely to go to college out-of-state in Democratic states, and vice versa. Second, it could mean that Democrats are more successful in getting North Carolina Democrats away at college to send back an absentee ballot if they happen to be in a Democratic state, and vice versa.  Or, it could be a bit of both.  Nonetheless, keep in mind that these numbers are pretty small, thus far, and unlikely to make the difference in the final outcomes. (Watch me have to eat my words.)