Over the last eight years, Nevada has been getting bluer. Though its voters supported George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, the state voted for President Obama by a wider margin than the nation as a whole in 2008 and 2012. So, it’s been interesting that Hillary Clinton has not pulled far ahead of Donald Trump there. The latest FiveThirtyEight forecast puts her at 47 percent, and Trump at 45. Are the polls showing a close race just wrong? Or, has something in the state changed politically?
We’ll have to wait a week to know for sure, but the early vote in Nevada suggests Clinton is relatively safe there.
Nevada is fairly unusual among states that allow early voting because it releases data on the party registration of early voters. Most people in the state vote early, and it hasn’t changed its early voting rules, giving us the 2012 election as a baseline. That means we can know if one party is voting in large numbers while at the same time understanding whether that large lead is going to hold through Election Day. Of course, it’s always possible that the early vote can mislead, so some caution is warranted.
Still, many more Democrats than Republicans have voted in early balloting. Through early Tuesday, 43 percent of early and absentee votes have been cast by registered Democrats and just 37 percent have been cast by registered Republicans. Democrats have a lead in the number of raw votes of greater than 30,000 out of more than 500,000 votes cast, which is about 50 percent of all votes cast in the 2012 presidential election.
Indeed, the pattern in early voting looks pretty much the same as in 2012. After one week of early voting in 2012, Democrats made up 45 percent of early voters and Republicans made up 37 percent. Those numbers held through the second week of early voting and into the general election. Democrats had a 7-point edge after early voting that year and a 6-point edge after all the votes were counted. The fact that the registration numbers didn’t change very much after early voting shouldn’t be surprising, because absentee and early voters made up about 70 percent of all ballots cast.
The similarity to 2012 in the early numbers in Nevada is good news for Clinton. Obama won the state by 7 points (or about the Democratic edge in the registration of those who voted). Some polls have given Clinton the same-size lead in the past month, but the current FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast puts her advantage at between 1 and 2 percentage points in Nevada. If Trump were to lose Nevada, the polls-only model gives him just a 9 percent chance of winning the election. It’s a near must-win for him, as most swing states are.
It’s always possible that some Democrats may vote for Trump, or that unaffiliated voters could go heavily for Trump. The math on that, however — as calculated by Nevada reporter Jon Ralston — rarely works out in Trump’s favor. Most Democrats are expected to vote for Clinton and most Republicans are expected to vote for Trump, which allows Democrats to take advantage of their upper hand in the party registration of early voters.
It should be noted that it wouldn’t be surprising for the Nevada polls to be off. The polls infamously predicted Democrat Harry Reid’s defeat in the 2010 Senate race, and underestimated Obama’s margin in the state in 2012. Those errors may have to do with the difficulty of polling the Hispanic population, which constitutes 15 percent of all voters in the state. As David Wasserman has pointed out on FiveThirtyEight, Latinos seem to be voting in large numbers throughout the nation in 2016. If Latinos are difficult to poll in Nevada and they are turning out, it could cause the polls to be too Republican once again in the state, masking Clinton’s lead.
Ralston, who correctly called the victories of Obama in 2012 (based on the early vote) and Reid in 2010, thinks the polls are leaning too Republican, given the early vote numbers. As he told me: “I’ve been following these early voting numbers for a few cycles and they predict a lot in Nevada: the 2012 Obama victory, the 2014 red wave. Unless there are seriously strange voting patterns going on, this is just about over here for Trump.” If it is over for Trump in Nevada, he loses six electoral votes in a race he probably can’t afford to lose.