Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The 2016 caucuses showcased the Silver State on the national stage. Both political parties benefitted from holding an early-nominating event in a state that is far more reflective of the American electorate than the three other early states in terms of diversification, urbanization and connectivity.
Indeed, the Nevada caucuses were the first opportunity for the candidates to face off in a state with a large metropolitan region. (Las Vegas, home to nearly three-quarters of our state’s population, is the nation’s 30th-most-populous metro area.) As a result, the caucuses in Southern Nevada garnered substantial national media coverage and clarified, at least temporarily, both parties’ nomination campaigns.
Nevada provided the biggest margins of victory to date for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and both owe their victories to the support they received in Southern Nevada. Given the demographic and political similarities between Las Vegas and other swing metro regions, candidates who play well in Las Vegas can expect a boost in other key metro regions.
Much of the post-caucus analysis has focused on how well the candidates performed among various demographic and geographic constituencies. Parsing these data is tricky because of the entrance polls’ small subgroup samples and questionable methodology. This uncertainty is further exacerbated by the vagaries of the process, including low turnout relative to both parties’ total registration, uneven demographic distribution of voters, lack of familiarity with the process and, on the Democratic side, the translation of individual votes into delegates to April’s county conventions. Still, inspection of both parties’ results suggests some of the initial conclusions, particularly with respect to Latino voters, were either overstated or faulty.
On the Democratic side, Clark County offered 73 percent of the 12,233 statewide delegates at stake in the caucuses, and Clinton bested Bernie Sanders by 10 points in Clark. Clinton won 862 more delegates in Clark than Sanders, a margin that was more than sufficient to offset Sanders’ stronger showings outside Las Vegas. Clinton dominated the precincts with high concentrations of blacks and Latinos, and she easily won the union-heavy vote at the at-large caucuses at multiple Strip properties. She also did well in Green Valley and Summerlin. Sanders’ strongest support came from the least-diverse parts of the state.
Heading into Tuesday’s Republican caucuses there was little doubt about the winner. Most attention focused on the battle for second place between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Donald Trump exceeded lofty expectations as he garnered more support than Cruz and Rubio combined. Trump performed particularly well in Southern Nevada as Clark County produced 58 percent of his total votes, nearly double what second-place finisher Rubio got in the county.
Despite these similarities, the Nevada caucuses also revealed key differences between the two parties. Republican turnout Tuesday exceeded the combined totals of the 2008 and 2012 GOP caucuses, while Democratic turnout decreased by roughly 50 percent compared with 2008, and the 14,000 new Democratic registrants were less than half of the voters added in 2008. Clearly, Trump’s presence drove the record Republican turnout. The same cannot be said for Sanders. Needing to expand the electorate in a manner similar to Barack Obama in 2008, Sanders failed to do so despite spending nearly twice as much as Clinton on television ads and devoting time and staff to expand and hone his ground game.
Although entrance polls indicate Trump dominated among nearly every subgroup of caucus goers, working-class whites fueled his support here as they have in the other early states. Trump’s mobilization of working-class whites, a sizable, albeit less-discussed component of the Las Vegas electorate, stands in stark contrast to Clinton’s support among Southern Nevada’s diverse electorate. During his victory speech Trump singled out several subgroups, including his oft-repeated line that “I love the poorly educated.” Although Republican candidates rely far less on metro, minority voters, to succeed they must secure the white vote in diverse, large-scale regions. The Clark County results suggest that large metro regions are likely to favor Clinton while not harming Trump’s nomination prospects.
Lastly, the Nevada caucuses offer perspective on the state of both parties’ internal dynamics. Clinton obtained endorsements and support from most key Democratic players in the state, many of whom served as vocal advocates, and her staff held substantial Nevada experience. While it is unlikely that any one of these actions was the difference maker, these acts are symbolic indicators of the Democratic establishment closing ranks behind Clinton.
For the Republicans, the caucuses reminded the nation of the growing chasm between the party’s leadership and its rank-and-file voters. With Jeb Bush’s exit from the race in the days leading up to the GOP Nevada caucuses, Marco Rubio added the endorsements of a number of high-profile Republican office holders including U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy. Even Gov. Brian Sandoval caucused for Rubio. Yet despite this firepower, Rubio finished more than 20 points behind Trump.
Heading into the Nevada caucuses, both parties expressed concerns that the state might lose its early-nominating status. This would be a mistake. Given the mostly white and rural make-up of Iowa and New Hampshire and the limited diversity of South Carolina, Nevada is a much-needed correction.
Nevada — first in the West and predictive of the rest.
Robert E. Lang is executive director of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute, and William E. Brown Jr. is the UNLV director at Brookings Mountain West. David F. Damore is an associate professor of political science at UNLV and an analyst for Latino Decisions. Its principals, but not Damor