It seems that every four years, the last couple of weeks and the last few days of the election turn nastier and nastier. Sometimes vicious last-minute attacks are fired off so rapidly that the opponent is afforded no time to respond. Virtually every study has shown that negative campaigning does not boost turnout or votes for the candidate doing the attacking, rather it suppresses the votes for the candidate being attacked. In other words, when campaigns turn nasty, less voters turn out.
This year could be different because some of the largest battleground states, such as Ohio, are offering early voting without requiring a valid absentee excuse from the voter. The trend toward no-excuse mail-in voting has been seen in recent cycles but could significantly alter the landscape of battleground states in the presidential election this year.
According to Rep. Nancy Pelosi's daughter, Christine Pelosi, "if you can get your supporters out now, before the final blitz of negativity, you can counter some of the voter suppression that comes in the form of negative campaigning during the last few weeks."
Battleground states with early voting programs include Ohio, Nevada, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. In some states, votes are counted as they are received, while in others they are not opened or counted until election day. In states where votes are counted when received, the campaigns have the advantage of being able to find out who has already voted, and then those voters can be removed from call lists and canvassing lists.
Nate Silver at fivethirteight.com says that Ohio will be the "canary in the mine" this year in regards to early voting -- their early voting ends next week on October 6th. Campaigns & Elections magazine notes that due to the Ohio deadline for early voting, along with the economic crisis unfolding this week, the race could possibly be decided this week if the electoral college comes down to Ohio.
The Obama campaign is paying special attention to early voting, campaigning hard for voters who can use mail-in ballots to use them. In addition to likely boosting overall turnout, this strategy also saves campaigns valuable resources during the crunch time of election day and the days immediately preceding election day.