Swingers: Nevada

Now that I’ve laid the foundation for understanding what my slant categories mean, I’m going to apply the same scale to the counties in every swing state and we’re going to focus on the swing counties and those that best represent the overall vote of the state from election to election.  I’m also going to provide some demographic data lifted from post-election analysis and exit polling of the 2008 and 2004 elections to help focus our attention on the core reasons that state votes changed and give us an idea where to look in any given state as the results come in on election night.  Along the way, I’ll add census bureau demographics and official county-level voting data for the last three elections.  We begin in Nevada – the awkward home of cattle ranchers, capitalists, commodity speculators, a healthy class of Mormons and a booming population of libertarians and licentious social liberals.  From the quasi-liberal bastion of Las Vegas to the decaying boom towns outside of Reno to the desert way stations of Elko and Carson City, the state is diverse and deeply conflicted.

This is what it looks like, county by county – with liberal counties in blue, conservative counties in red, swing counties in grey and deeper colors representing deeper slant.  The first image is Nevada, averaged from 2000-2012 – the county marked with a gold star (Washoe County – home of Reno) best represents at the county level the outcome for the entire state.  An interesting find, considering that, within Washoe County is every type of Nevada landscape – majestic mountains and scorching deserts, glittering casinos lined with prostitutes and bookies and crumbling gold-rush boom towns whose mines have long since closed.  Native American reservations and Hispanic barrios.  The state is 16% Latino, 9% African American and 1% Native – as is Washoe County.  The state’s two main exports are entertainment/tourism and precious metals, though the latter is struggling these days – the same can be said of Washoe County.


  • Washoe
  • *crickets* – yep…that’s all.


  • Clarke (Las Vegas)
  • nada mas!
CONSERVATIVE STRONGHOLD (populated regions that lean rightward)
  • Carson City (immediately below Washoe county on the map)
  • Douglass (Elko)
  • Las Vegas suburbs, Reno suburbs

Clarke County (the bottom county highlighted in democrat-leaning blue) contains Las Vegas, has traditionally voted roughly 53-47 for democrats and accounts for 65-70% of the state’s vote.  Nevada has never been carried for the Republicans when Clarke County gave more than 8 points of cushion to the Democrat – they gave Obama 17 points.  But it’s Washoe County that tends to mirror the final margin of victory the best (as demonstrated by calculating the root mean square error between the county and state slant for the three elections).

Several things conspire to hurt the GOP going forward in Nevada.  For one thing, the state as a whole and Washoe County in particular are becoming increasingly diverse, with a larger share of Hispanics and African Americans moving here from the sinking ship to the west.  As well, the tension between the laissez faire capitalists who founded Las Vegas and traditional conservatives, who believe social values to be just as important to a civil society as capitalism and individual liberty has grown into an all-out cold war.  You can see this by the ever-increasing share of Clarke County conservative votes shifting toward the (usually irrelevant) libertarian party candidate of the season.  But, before we conservatives punt the state based on 2008 electoral models, let’s take a look at the trends, by overall county slant grouping:


  • 2000 – 28.1 (11.3% of state vote)
  • 2004 – 29.2 (10.0% of state vote)
  • 2008 – 36.8 (9.3% of state vote)
  • 2000 – 40.0 (5.8% of state vote)
  • 2004 – 41.0 (5.0% of state vote)
  • 2008 – 47.4 (4.7% of state vote)
WASHOE (the only county in group 3)
  • 2000 – 45.0 (20.1% of state vote)
  • 2004 – 47.8 (19.2% of state vote)
  • 2008 – 56.5 (18.6% of state vote)
CLARKE (the only liberal county)
  • 2000 – 53.4 (62.8% of state vote)
  • 2004 – 52.5 (65.7% of state vote)
  • 2008 – 59.7 (67.2% of state vote)
So we have two things going on here – first, and most troubling for conservatives, is that the conservative parts of the state are losing vote share due to failure of mining towns and cattle ranches and the mass exodus of the state’s entrepreneurs to the greener pastures of the high plains, where mineral and oil shale prospecting is just beginning.  As this happens, the state should be expected to gradually drift to the left politically.  But second – something very anomalous happened in 2008.
According to exit poll surveys and follow-up demographic research of the swing states, the following things changed between 2004 and 2008 in Nevada:
  • Voter turnout increased by 13% statewide, and new-voter turnout increased 25%.
  • Young voters increased by 32% between 2004 and 2008, while elderly voters stayed roughly stable (increasing by only 4%)
  • Hispanic turnout increased by a whopping 80% statewide, especially in Clarke and Washoe counties and African American turnout increased by 60%, largely in Clarke county.  This resulted in Hispanics making up 16% of the electorate in 2008 and blacks accounting for 10% as compared to normal rates of 10% and 8% respectively.
  • Hispanics that do vote traditionally give the democrats roughly 30 points (65-35 margins are common), but in 2008, Hispanics gave Obama 49 points in Nevada (!)
All of those things suggest a “wave election” – where voter enthusiasm is abnormal and traditionally unreliable segments of the population turn out to vote in large numbers.  Here the thing though…wave elections never last.  I wagged my finger at Conservatives who proclaimed victory after the 2010 elections, saying that momentum has no memory and that, while it was possible that 2010 could be the start of something big for conservatism, it would have to be given new energy at each cycle to continue to flourish.  And here, we have a stagnant economy, a precarious foreign policy situation, and, for Nevada Hispanics, a sense of disappointment with Obama’s apparent lack of interest in immigration issues while his party had control of all three branches of government, combined with the disaster of Operation Fast and Furious – getting exceedingly graphic and damning coverage on Univision – the primary source of news and entertainment for many Hispanic Americans.  There no reason to expect a wave this time around.  Which means that, although the long term leftward trend in Nevada may continue, there should be a rightward correction in 2012.
Will it be enough?  Watch the returns in Washoe County on election night and hope that Clarke County gives a much smaller edge to Obama than 4 years prior.

4 thoughts on “Swingers: Nevada

  1. I mentioned it. 🙂

    The first map is the state vote pattern, averaged between 2000 and 2008…the second is just 2008…look closely at the colors…there are slight differences (especially Washoe County and Carson City in the West of the state)


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