Once every four years, Nevada’s recent Republican and Democratic caucus polls latch on to the national spotlight, a nice change for the “sin state” typically in the news for its brothels, casinos and Cliven Bundy’s battle with the Bureau of Land Management.
As the third state in the running for Democrats and the fourth for Republicans, Nevada holds a unique position in shaping the national narrative about a candidate’s viability. It’s not the first test, but it certainly isn’t past the tipping point. The winner will pick up a boost of early momentum, even though Nevada offers little in terms of delegate gains.
On the Republican side, that’s shaping up to be great news for Donald Trump. The casino mogul holds a home-field advantage in the state, where he’s built a significant amount of his empire. Early polls taken in 2015 reflect that. Trump held a more than 10 point lead over Ted Cruz as of the end of last year, with Marco Rubio trailing almost another full 10 percent in third place.
Still, that Nevada caucus poll will be nearly two months old by the time voters express their support on Feb. 20. In a volatile primary season, their accuracy could have easily fluctuated. Ted, after all, gained 16 points in the five months between the most recent December and previous July poll. There’s no telling what another two months could mean for the Republican field.
Democrats, on the other hand, have much fresher data to work with — though it’s not any more definitive. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are shown in a dead heat with 45 percent each in the most recent Nevada caucus poll. That’s a huge blow to Hillary, who was enjoying a more than 20-point advantage in late December. The poll in question was, however, conducted by The Washington Free Beacon, which has heavily supported Bernie.
Jon Ralston, a political analyst for Reno Gazette-Journal, did note that Clinton still shouldn’t be counted out in Nevada. The amount of voters that candidates actually manage to draw in on caucus day will hold the true key to which Democratic nominee lands the Silver State.
“Considering the institutional advantages and her first-rate team, Clinton should still be considered the favorite. Caucus turnout will be relatively low – in 2008, the record 120,000 voters was still only about a quarter of the Democratic electorate – so organization matters. And a lot could and will happen in the next week, including a nationally televised town hall on Thursday in Las Vegas.”
Republicans face a similar challenge to their Democratic counterparts: mobilizing supporters to actually attend Nevada caucuses. Local news source Nevada Appeal reported that the challenge is even deeper than polls show, especially for the GOP.
“That’s especially true for the GOP in which the presidential preference vote is just half the equation. After that, the vote to name delegates is important because the preference vote only binds delegates on the first ballot. After that, delegates can vote for anyone. The failure of mainstream Republicans to understand that second part of the rules resulted in a Tea Party takeover of the state convention in both 2008 and 2012.”
With just over a week before Democrats and Republicans cast their Nevada caucus votes, the most recent polls far from provide a clear answer for either side. Voting day will truly be the final test.
[Image via Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]