Early voting in Nevada for the 2016 Primary Election have concluded. Aside from late arriving absentee ballots, this will be all the votes until election day. Traditionally, early voting has skewed Republican compared to election day and over all results; absentees have usually been even more Republican.
As mentioned before, since the Presidential Caucuses are held earlier in the year, it is easier to compare 2016 with 2012. The number of active registered voters in Nevada in 2016 is 22% higher than it was in 2012, so naturally the number of voters in the primary can be expected to be higher than in 2012. The increase in overall early voters has tracked that with an increase of 22% over 2012, though that will likely result in a higher increase once late absentees are reported.
Nevada est omnis divisa in partes tres
The state can be divided, as Caeser might say, into three parts: Clark County, which contains Las Vegas and 70% of the states population; Washoe County, which contains Reno and 20% of the states population; and the rural counties, which contain 10% of the states population.
Clark County leans Democratic, while the rural counties are overwhelmingly Republican if not more conservative (hard right 3rd parties can be elected to partisan office in many rural counties). This leaves Washoe as the “Bellwether” county which has, with two notable exceptions, always gone with the statewide winner in every statewide contest in Nevada this century.
The early vote numbers for Republicans do not compare well when compared to 2012.* A comparison of turnout, as a percentage of the vote is noted below for statewide, Clark County, and Washoe County results:
The statewide gap of Republicans over Democrats shrank from over 10% to just 2%. In Clark County, their deficit grew from about 2% to over 10%. Even in Washoe County, the Republicans’ gap over Democrats dropped from over 15% to about 11%
This might be a sign of greater Democrat enthusiasm, though the Presidential caucuses were held in February, or their relative strength in registration. The Democrats have 19.6% more voters statewide at this point than they did in 2012; the Republicans have only 14.7% more; 3rd parties and decline to state, however, increased 40.6%. In Clark County, the difference is even greater: Republicans have 17% more than they did in 2012; Democrats, have 26% more; 3rd parties and decline to state increased a whopping 50%. In Washoe, though the overall numerical increase favored the Republicans, their share of registration increased only 8% compared with the Democrats 9%, or 3rd parties and decline to state increased 20%.
Alternately this might just be a sign of voters increasingly preferring early voting over voting on election day. Already a vast majority of voters cast votes before election day. Since in the past early voting has skewed towards the Republicans, a shift of Election Day voters to Early Voting would diminish the early vote lead of Republicans.
The big caveat, however, is that registration as of the primary is not a guarantee of results in November:
“In 2012, the Democrats has a statewide registration advantage of about 39 thousand, compared in an increased advantage of over 62 thousand in 2014, which is close to the 2016 advantage of about 66 thousand. In Clark County the 2014 Democrat advantage was over 102 thousand was closer to the 114 advantage in 2016 than compared with the only about 77 thousand in 2012. Yet, despite the registration advantage being better for Democrats in 2014 at this point than in 2012, the Republicans did much, much better in 2014 than in 2012. In particular, the Republican candidates for Assembly won more votes than Democrats for the second time in three elections.”
While much of the 2014 turnout for Democrats was due to a lack of serious Gubernatorial candidates (“None of these candidates” won the most votes in the Democrat Gubernatorial Primary), which isn’t the case in 2016, it does demonstrate that more favorable registration numbers can play second fiddle to turnout.
Nevada State Senate
The best shot the Republicans have is keeping the state Senate where they hold a 11-10 lead, and hold the Lt. Governorship. In 2012, Republicans won three of the four “swing” seats up for regular election: SD15 (by 0.4% or 266 votes) in Washoe County and the Clark County districts of SD18 (by 2.8% or 1471 votes) and SD6 (by 1.6% or 901 votes); Democrats won SD5 (by 4.0% or 1996 votes).
The good news for Republicans is that in two of the swing districts they won, SD15 and SD18, their registration advantage has gone up, by abet by only 325 and 252 voters respectively. Also good news for SD18: The Democrats aren’t targeting incumbent Scott Hammond like they are in SD6 and SD15, meaning that SD18 isn’t considered “competitive” in the same manner as it was in 2012. Also good news in SD15, the Republican, ex-Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, was former chief of staff for Gov. Sandoval and will have his full backing. Additionally, there is not Libertarian or Independent American Candidate in running in either SD6 and SD18. The Democrats also have to defend SD13 in a special election in Washoe County, though it is heavily Democratic, with the Democrats winning it by 20% in 2012.
The bad news for Republicans is that the Democratic registration advantage in Democrat held SD5 increased by 1738 voters where well known incumbent Democrat Joyce Woodhouse is running for re-election, while in SD6, it increased to 1654. Remember, the Republicans only won SD6 by 901 votes; a 2012 style turnout would net the Democrats an extra 1251 votes, or 252 more than they’d need to win. Democrats also benefit in SD5 and SD15 where a Libertarian candidate is running.
As such, the Democrats only hold one competitive seat: SD5. It will be the least likely to flip, though Gov. Sandoval could make a difference here is he decides to expand the Republicans’ state Senate majority (or to serve as insurance in the case of a loss elsewhere)).
The three competitive state Senate seats Republicans hold are SD15 in Washoe and SD6 in Clark County. With expected strong support by the Washoe Republican party, increased voter registration edge, and Gov. Sandoval’s expected support, the Republicans have a good shot at keeping SD15.
The seat that will most likely determine control of the state Senate is SD6. There is a competative primary between Erv Nelson, who is backed by Gov. Sandoval, and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman who raised the ire of both Sandoval, and the major anti-Sandoval forces. An Erv Nelson win would result in full backing by Sandoval, who has shown a capacity to deliver, while a win by Victoria Seaman makes that far less likely.
What makes this single seat even more important, is that every single swing seat in the state Senate up for reelection (SD8, SD9, SD20) are Republican, meaning that unless the Republicans can pick up the long-shot SD21 (which the Democrat, Mark Manendo won in a hyper-Republican year by 7%), they would be unable to flip the state Senate back to Republican in 2018 if the Democrats take over in 2016.
With Republicans being favored in the last two Gubernatorial year elections (Republicans received more votes in the Assembly than Democrats in both 2010 and 2014), and Democrats being favored in Presidential years, the placement of when the swing state Senate seats are up could very well determine control of the Nevada state Senate for a decade after the next census.
With the unpredictability shown this Presidential cycle so far, prognostications for the Fall: Turnout will more likely mirror 2012 more than 2014, but the biggest variable remains the effect of the Presidential race. All else equal, turnout and registration suggests that Hilly wins Nevada’s six electoral votes; the Democrats keep the U.S. Senate seat; and Democrats retake the Assembly. The biggest question is: Who will win SD6 this Fall, and in partial answer to that, who will win the Republican primary for SD6 on the 13th?
* The early vote & absentee totals from 2012 include absentee ballots received after end of early voting, but by Tuesday election.