Butler County Democrats celebrate early returns in the 2016 election in November 2016, but would be disappointed later that evening as their Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency. They’re hopeful this year and believe a Blue Wave will crest this November. FILE

Is the Blue Wave building in Butler County? One expert says it’s too early to tell.

NOTE: This story has been updated with final early voting numbers, which wrapped up at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Early voting ended at 2 p.m. Monday, so heading into the May 8 primary election there have been 4,863 ballots issued and 4,213 of those have been returned. While Republicans still hold a large lead over Democrats in Butler County, it’s not as strong.

In 2012 when President Barack Obama was elected to a second term, there was nearly a 4-to-1 voter registration advantage. However that voter registration has slid in recent years, and in advance of Tuesday’s election it’s now less than a 3-to-1 advantage.

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In addition to a closing gap in partisan voter registration, more Democrats have taken out and cast an early vote ballot in this year’s gubernatorial primary than the last primary race four years ago.

And by contrast, fewer Republicans are voting in this primary than the gubernatorial primary in 2014.

Miami University political science professor John Forren said it’s “too early” to read much into these numbers, but it matches the national trend of an enthusiasm gap.

“It’s too early to tell, but those kinds of return numbers are consistent with the idea that there’s a lot of enthusiasm on the Democratic side … clearly, not just here but around the country,” he said. “We’re seeing that in special elections that have been held recently around the country.”

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We saw a similar enthusiasm gap in the GOP’s favor nationally in 2010 when Gov. John Kasich beat the incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland, and Republicans swept the other state executive seats.

Republicans have a 33 to 16 lead in governors of their party (Alaska’s governor is an Independent), a two-seat lead in the U.S. Senate and a 48-seat lead in U.S. House. Republicans could lose as many as seven gubernatorial seats — including Ohio — come November, and while the U.S. House isn’t likely to flip, both congressional chambers have the potential to flip to the Democrats this November, according to Real Clear Politics polling.

Democrats are also enthused to send a message in response to resident Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral victory, Forren said.

“It looks like that’s the case right now,” he said. “They’re motivated to go out and vote against Trump, so that could be bad news for Republicans down the ballot. You can see that even at the local level.”

While more Republicans have taken out early ballots and voted as of the Thursday before the May 8 election, Democrats have increased their numbers while Republicans have decreased.

There are 395 more Democratic early ballots issued this year compared to 2014’s primary, and there are more than 220 fewer Republican ballots issued.

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Forren also said he wouldn’t be surprised to see higher Democratic turnouts, not just in early voting but on Election Day.

But just because the gap has narrowed from 2014 to 2018 in subsequent gubernatorial elections, Forren said that doesn’t mean Butler County is turning purple, or the so-called Blue Wave is starting to swell.

“It’s a sign it’s becoming more competitive,” he said. “Republicans still have a big lead in party identification in Butler County, clearly, but that increased enthusiasm in voting on the Democratic side could make it more competitive.”

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