President Barack Obama is off the campaign trail and back in Washington leading the response to Hurricane Sandy. But out in the country, early voting continues, and the Obama campaign says African-Americans are taking full advantage.

A memo released Tuesday by the Obama campaign’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, details what the campaign calls an on-the-ground demonstration that “African-Americans are committed to doing everything they can to re-elect the president.”

The campaign memo states:

In the first two days of early voting in Florida, nearly a quarter (23.7 percent) of the electorate was African American. We’ve seen consistently strong turnout in predominately African American areas of Broward and Dade counties, with big crowds patiently waiting hours to cast their votes. Yesterday 1,200 people marched from Bethune Cookman University, an HBCU in Daytona Beach, to vote early.

The historically high turnout among African Americans in North Carolina four years ago was one of the reasons President Obama carried the state by just 14,000 votes. But what’s even more impressive is what’s happening this year: 83,155 more African Americans have already voted this year than had at this point in 2008. More African Americans age 24 and younger are voting this time than in 2008, and the same is true among African America voters between the ages of 25 and 34. In both cases, their share of votes is outpacing their share of the voting population.

The campaign says that African-American voter registration is up “dramatically” over 2008, including in crucial swing states like Colorado (up 20 percent), Iowa (13 percent), Florida (10 percent) and Nevada (12 percent). And the campaign hopes to press that advantage before November 6th, by turning out voters early in states that allow in person and absentee early voting.

The campaign claims that early voting by African-Americans is up by at least 17 percent in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina, all of which allow in-person early voting, and in Virginia, which allows only early absentee voting by mail.

The campaign also claims black voters have higher levels of enthusiasm for the election than voters in general.

Results in Ohio so far appear to bear out the Obama campaign’s optimism.

Despite the storm’s impact in the crucial swing state, where the storm knocked out power to 180,000 people and caused floods, down trees and other damage, Democrats report record turnout in African-American vote-rich areas like Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and Franklin County, which includes Columbus. Those two counties have reportedly experienced strong turnout as of Monday, despite the early effects of the storm, which included cold, rainy conditions across the state. And the Cuyahoga County elections supervisor, in an interview with theGrio Sunday, reported higher early vote turnout in 2012 than in 2008.

Republicans are also touting a strong early vote turnout in Ohio, though hard numbers are not yet known.

In Florida, the state’s Democratic Party reported that Democrats had cast more early votes than Republicans overall, despite a continued deficit in absentee voting. According to Florida Democrats, Democrats outpaced Republicans in early voting in Broward, Alachua, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange and St. Lucie counties, and the campaign reported in a campaign memo that:

The number of registered Hispanics has increased by more than 300,000 since November 2008, and only 31,000 registered as Republicans. This means that just 10% of the increase in Hispanic registrations was accounted for by Republicans. The other 90% accrued to Democrats and independents.
The African-American, Caribbean-American and Hispanic registered voter population increased by more than 450,000. To put this number in perspective, note that in 2008, Barack Obama won Florida by 236,450 votes (2.8 percentage points). 

Obama is counting on an electorate that is comprised of at least 26 percent non-white voters; the composition of the electorate in 2008. The percentage of voters who are non-white has risen approximately 2 percent every four years for the last 20 years, and the campaign early on estimated the 2012 share would be 28 percent. That would counteract Mitt Romney’s historically high share of the white vote, which has been seen in most national polls. This election is shaping up to be one of the most racially-polarized in modern history, social scientists say, but Obama can afford to underperform his 41 percent share of white voters with strong turnout by black and Latino voters, both of whom prefer him over Romney by wide margins.

As veteran political reporter Ron Brownstein explained in the National Journal in August:

For President Obama, the winning formula can be reduced to 80/40. In 2008, Obama won a combined 80 percent of the votes of all minority voters, including not only African-Americans but also Hispanics, Asians, and others. If Obama matches that performance this year, he can squeak out a national majority with support from about 40 percent of whites—so long as minorities at least match the 26 percent of the vote they cast last time.

Obama’s strategic equation defines Mitt Romney’s formula: 61/74. Romney’s camp is focused intently on capturing at least 61 percent of white voters. That would provide him a slim national majority—so long as whites constitute at least 74 percent of the vote, as they did last time, and Obama doesn’t improve on his 80 percent showing with minorities.

Some polls, notably the Gallup Poll, are projecting an electorate that has fewer non-white voters than the Obama campaign anticipates (Gallup projects an 11 percent African-American vote share vs the 13 percent reported by exit polls in 2008). And that matters since, as pollster Mark Blumenthal has pointed out in the Huffington Post:

The need to weight accurately by race and ancestry is particularly significant when it comes to evaluating the contest between Obama and Romney. As Gallup itself reported in early May, Romney led Obama among non-Hispanic white voters by 54 to 37 percent, while the president had the support of more than three-quarters of non-white registered voters (77 percent). Obama’s support among African Americans on Gallup’s tracking poll stood at 90 percent.

That gap makes the way pollsters account for race hugely important. When pollsters weight their samples to match population demographics, every percentage point increase in black representation translates into a nearly one-point improvement in Obama’s margin against Romney. The difference of just a few percentage points in the non-white composition of a poll can produce a significant skew in its horse race results.

It remains to be seen who is right. We will all know after November 6th.

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