The argument that Nevada is more representative of the country as a whole is rooted in its demographic makeup, which is more diverse than overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire, or South Carolina, with its mostly black and white voters. The pie of eligible voters looks like this, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center: 62 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 9 percent black, and 7 percent Asian American. Clinton has typically seen support among African American and Hispanic voters— potentially giving her a leg up over Sanders and his white base—though her campaign last week tried to lower expectations. (In a statement Clinton herself criticized, a staffer suggested Sanders could do well in Nevada because it’s “nearly 80 percent white.”) As my colleague Emily DeRuy reported earlier this week, young Latino voters in particular represent a crucial target for the Democrats in Nevada. The state’s fast-growing Asian American population—it’s doubled since 2000—is also a focus of the Democratic campaigns. According to a recent Associated Press report, “as Nevada’s caucuses draw closer there’s been a surge in activity aimed at attracting Asian voters,” with the Clinton campaign performing “the most sustained outreach.”
Figuring out who’ll show up to vote in Nevada is a challenge for campaigns and pollsters alike. The contest is closed—so only registered Democrats and Republicans can caucus—but that doesn’t mean turnout and voter preferences are easy to predict. Not only do caucus voters often make voting decisions at the last minute, but they can utilize same-day registration. And as the Los Angeles Times reports, 17-year-old Nevadans whose birthdays fall between the caucuses and the general election are allowed to participate in the caucuses. “For a campaign like Sanders’, powered in part by the energy of young, first-time voters, that’s a good thing.” Yet Sanders’s campaign could also find it challenging to appeal to the state’s typically more moderate voters.
Nevada is so tricky to survey that many pollsters don’t even try. (Don’t believe it? A quick glance at RealClearPolitics shows the lack of polling on both Democrat and Republican candidates.) Aside from the difficulties the caucus system presents, surveying in Nevada can be pricey, because the large Hispanic population means polls should be conducted in English and Spanish, the Las Vegas Sun reports. There’s no university poll surveying the state, as in other early-primary states like South Carolina. And the composition of the state’s electorate makes it hard to gauge. Here’s the Sun:
[I]t’s also difficult for pollsters to guess the demographics of those who turn out. Not only does Nevada have a diverse population, but a transitory one, too. Young voters, or those who are new to the state, may not make it through the screening process for likely voters, said David Damore, UNLV political science professor, adding that polls in Nevada tend to skew older and more Republican.
“It’s a very challenging environment for Nevada,” Damore said. “It’s a microcosm of all the issues that are facing the polling industry.”
Nevada’s geography presents quirks as well. More than 70 percent of the state’s residents live in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, which gives the interests of these urban, service-industry-oriented voters particular weight. Indeed, Nevada’s contest represents the first time urban voters will be given a voice in the Democratic race. Boston’s WBUR recently wrote that the “path to victory in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses this Saturday goes straight down Las Vegas Boulevard.” As in 2008, caucus sites are being set up directly on the Strip at a handful of casinos: the Rio, Paris Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, Wynn Las Vegas, Harrah’s, and New York-New York. The Culinary Union, often described in news reports as singularly “powerful,” backed President Obama in 2008 and hasn’t endorsed a candidate this cycle. It’s working on get-out-the-vote efforts among its 57,000 members, most of whom work in the Las Vegas area and Reno. The union describes itself as the “largest immigration organization” in the state and touts the high percentage of women and Latino members it represents (55 percent and 56 percent, respectively).