Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2016

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Jon Ralston:

Obama-Sandoval, a blue Washoe and to tax or not to tax?

As far as political clichés go, there may be more obnoxious ones about polls than anything else.

The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day. Polls are but a snapshot in time. Polls are only as good as the questions that are asked.

These inane statements of the obvious or obvious statements of inanity never cease to rankle, and someone will be muttering one or more after the release this week of Glen Bolger’s poll for the Retailers Association of Nevada. (Details of the poll are here.

I won’t waste much of your time on Bolger’s credentials. Suffice it to say he is one of the finer pollsters in the country, he’s a Republican, and he has consistently produced accurate numbers in Nevada (he was one of the few to indicate Harry Reid was not behind Sharron Angle as the race wound down in 2010.)

The demographics generally look right — the breakdown of Republicans and Democrats generally mirrors registration (which may skew Democratic because Republicans generally turn out in higher proportional numbers), but Latinos (10 percent of the polling universe) seem under-represented (they were at 15 percent the past two cycles, so that sample could skew GOP).

Despite any flaws, the usual partisan bleating should be muted (but is it ever?) because the survey showed Gov. Brian Sandoval doing so well (63 percent approval rating) at the same time it shows Rep. Shelley Berkley so close to Sen. Dean Heller (within the margin of error). And it sets some benchmarks that will be interesting to track as the campaign season goes on:

• The Obama-Sandoval ticket: The governor’s numbers have improved significantly since Bolger last polled in September, perhaps a reflection of the minimally improving economy but more, I think, because he is so likable and because his foes are so unlikable and/or inept. If you look at the numbers at the link above, you will see just how universal Sandoval’s surge has been, including with Democrats, where he is now in positive territory, and he is a monster (71-16) with independents, who are the key to any election. Those same independents are upside down (36-56) about the president, but voters are deadlocked on whether Barack Obama should be re-elected. Like Sandoval, Obama is probably more likable than any of his competitors, so he has a chance here — and elsewhere. But what I continue to find most interesting is how Sandoval will keep talking about the improving economy — it’s in his interest — and that can only help the president here. What’s Sandoval going to say? He made the economy better by blocking the expiration of $600 million in tax increases? I don’t think so.

• The Washoe anomalies: The numbers in the North are fascinating. Berkley and Heller are in a dead heat in Washoe County, and the president’s numbers (56-40) are amazingly strong there. So, is the poll just wrong or is something happening here? Any poll can miss the mark, but folks should not miss what is happening in Washoe, as evidenced by Obama’s ’08 victory there and Reid’s ’10 win. Yes, no analogy is perfect, especially one that might involve Sharron Angle. But Washoe is turning bluer and bluer — Jill Derby and Heller were competitive there twice in congressional races — and even independents there seem more liberal than anywhere else in the state. That could be an ominous harbinger for the GOP.

• The taxing results: The results on questions about taxation show Nevadans remain fuzzy on some issues, clear on others and clearest on one: They would love to tax mining — 58-38 is a landslide. And even though people in all parts of the state have some sympathy for gaming — the poll shows a divided electorate — there is none for mining, and that is why the industry is spending a fortune (thank goodness gold is so high) to try to ensure the proposal never makes it to the ballot. The split on the proposed margin tax — labor is preparing an initiative to tax business — also is interesting, showing how important the campaigns would be there, too. What’s interesting is that the public does not — again — seem to favor spending cuts over new taxes, fearing education and health care would be compromised (Norquistians will say this skews the result, but people are smarter than one dimension). But voters also fear government wastes money and that tax increases will cost jobs and hurt business. Pity the poor pols and special interests: begging for the votes of schizophrenics.

So, what does it all mean? I have no idea because this poll is only a snapshot, the questions determine everything, and the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.

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