February 17, 2016
I’ve bitched about the lack of Silver State data for several days now. Until today, we had one poll taken in 2016, from an unproven source. It showed a tie, with a decent amount of undecided voters. The amount of current polls just doubled, with CNN/ORC weighing in.
Let’s commence our exercise in reading way too much into a single poll:
Hillary Clinton 48
Bernie Sanders 47
Can’t get much closer. The other survey had them tied 45/45. This is what a close race looks like. It’s safe to say either candidate could win. We’re definitely within the margin where caucus rules become a factor as they did in Iowa.
Unlike Iowa, the rules aren’t clearly understood by journalists and analysts. The Hawkeye State’s rules (at least on the Democratic side) are complicated, but people have plenty of practice interpreting them. There’s no comparable local media contingent in Nevada.
The first caucus was in 2008. The 2012 caucus only mattered on the GOP side. So we’re looking at a single poll and comparing it backward to a single past event. Not the safest of approaches, but it’s better than just waiting to see what happens on Saturday.
Urban v. Rural
In 2008, Barack Obama had a big organizational advantage on Hillary Clinton. It showed up most in the rural counties. While Hillary won the state delegate equivalent contest (the scoreboard equivalent of popular vote in a primary) by 6 points, Obama won more national delegates.
Hillary was ready this time and had offices up in places like Ely and Winnemucca before Bernie built much of anything anywhere in state. But rural voters are largely white, and Hillary’s supposed advantage is with voters of color. But rural voters skew older and Bernie’s edge is with young voters.
We don’t have perfect data. Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) are the two big counties. CNN only broke out Clark, by far the largest. The split is the same 48/47 as overall. This means the delegate equivalent vote and national delegate distributions should be similar.
It also shows a toss-up across the regions of the state. Either candidate could win pretty much any county, and you’ll be able to explain why they won very easily.
Age v. Ethnicity
CNN is not showing a major ethnic difference. White voters prefer Hillary 46/44. They did not separate out the non-white groups, but if Hillary is ahead by 2 among white voters, by nature Bernie must be very competitive with voters of color.
If you’re looking for a reason, I’ll give you a definite one and a speculative one. For all the focus on ethnicity, age is a better indicator of which candidate a voter will support. In Nevada, younger voters are way more diverse than older voters.
This is different from South Carolina, where Hillary is leading by a solid margin. There, Bernie faces a large population of older African American voters. That’s two strikes for him, where in Nevada, the factors cancel out a bit.
You can build yourself kind of a mental grid. The most likely Sanders supporter is a 20-year-old lower-income white male college student. The most likely Clinton supporter is an 80-year-old upper-income, African American woman.
A $40,000/year, 35-year-old, Hispanic man has more in common with a Bernie supporter than a Hillary supporter. If I’m extrapolating the data correctly, that’s what’s going on. Hillary is ahead 54/38 among women, so Bernie has a fair edge among men.
Hillary is ahead 69/26 among voters 55 and up, while Bernie leads with under 55 voters 56/38. I would expect his lead among voters under 40 is very large, but we don’t have the info. We know from several polls in other locations that Bernie does far better with voters under 40 than 40-55.
We know from this poll that Hillary does better with women. I would imagine the gender gap is even larger among older voters, but assuming there is at least a small one among voters in the 18 to 55 group, it means Bernie is winning younger men by New Hampshire-like numbers, even if they are much less white.
Speculatively, I’m going to guess she’s starting to have an issue with Latino voters. This was her bulwark in 2008 against Obama. She lost African Americans to him the minute he became viable, but won Hispanics by a large margin, helping her hold on in California for example.
Her coalition was blue collar whites and Latinos. The blue collar whites are with Bernie. African Americans have replaced them on Team Hillary. If they split the Hispanic vote, she’s got a nightmare going forward.
We’ve seen Hillary spending time with a multitude of black leaders in the past couple weeks. She’s going all out to protect that southern firewall. I’m not sure this is helping her with Latino voters and may wind up counterproductive.
Though Democratic voters do favor her on immigration, there isn’t a noticeable difference in the candidates’ positions. Her widely circulated quotes and clips have her talking about institutional racism in a way that applies more to African Americans.
Going back to our hypothetical 35-year-old Hispanic man, how is visiting Harlem and appearing with civil rights icon John Lewis at a rally going to move the needle. If his wages haven’t increased in the past decade, Bernie is going to sound more relevant right now.
I wish we had data to show if there’s a gap between Latino, African American, and Asian (almost 10% of the population in Nevada) voters in their candidate preferences. There’s virtually no analysis of how Asian voters are feeling about Hillary and Bernie, but in states like Massachusetts, Virginia, and later Washington and California, their vote matters.
When Hillary focuses on African American-centric states, she risks causing a long-term problem elsewhere. For now, she just wants to survive, but if Bernie can stay close enough, long enough, it could haunt her.
Adjusting for House Effects
All of this sounds favorable to Bernie and scary to Hillary. It is and should be. But I’ve left out part of the story. CNN polls consistently favor Sanders. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, they consistently had him in a stronger position than any other polling sponsor.
In Iowa, they wound up a bit optimistic. In New Hampshire, they were slightly high. There’s a similar effect with Trump, who registered at 45% in the Nevada GOP poll they took at the same time. CNN both tends to overshoot on both and is more prescient than many of the skeptics.
This means it’s not wrong to think Bernie has a real shot in Nevada, but a 1 point deficit with CNN is more like a 5 to 7 point shortfall at a minimum. It gets a bit worse. Many voters are still likely to change their minds. Only 62% of voters say they’re certain.
Unfortunately, that number is 71% among voters 55 and over, people we already know are more likely Clinton supporters. We have to infer this, as they didn’t give a direct breakdown, but in recent polls elsewhere, it appears more of Hillary’s voters are locked in.
That makes sense. Many voters are paying more attention now that their states are getting closer to voting. Bernie is still relatively new to them. They may not have taken him seriously until he won New Hampshire by 20+ points.
Still, it means he needs to make a very strong closing push. If he’s a little behind, and his voters are more likely to bail, his odds of losing by 10 are greater than his odds of winning by 5. In the lead up to Iowa, the numbers were somewhat similar.
Hillary was probably ahead by a little (though notably, she trailed by 8 in the CNN poll), and her voters were more committed. Bernie closed well, though it was more a matter of getting his leaners to stay, than converting supposedly sold Hillary voters.
In the Weeds
CNN asked a bunch of questions on which candidate is stronger on the issues. On the economy, the most important issue to 42% of likely voters, they were the same 48/47 split as in the overall preference poll.
It’s the same on the “best represents the values of Democrats like yourself” question. Hillary 50, Bernie 49. On looking out for the Middle Class, Bernie 50, Hillary 47. If these “soft” items are important, he’s very competitive.
On everything else, from foreign policy, to health care, to immigration, to race relations, Hillary has a 16 to 40 point lead. In Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary’s lead with these items was balance by an edge for Bernie in the soft categories and on the economy.
One final note, something positive for Bernie in the long run. Electability is an extra big issue now with the Scalia seat hanging in the balance. Hillary is favored, but only 56/40. In October, it was 59/17 (with 18 for Biden). It means Sanders is making progress convincing voters he’s the more electable candidate.
It also means he doesn’t need to convince that many voters to support him, even though they think Hillary is ultimately more viable.
Bernie and Hillary are doing another televised Town Hall on MSNBC tomorrow at 9pm Eastern (6pm Nevada). No idea what the ratings will be, but Bernie has a chance to create a few strong closing clips for his volunteers to circulate through social media.
This one is going down to the wire. Bernie is making progress, but he’s not there yet.