What Happened in Nevada

Adam Martin
The Book Aisle
Published in
10 min readFeb 3, 2021

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This is the eighth part in my series on the 2020 presidential election. Similar to the Arizona article, this part will be shorter than other parts.

Nevada is very similar to Arizona in terms of its geography, demographics, and difficulty for writing. In this case, the path to victory runs through Clark County, which houses almost three quarters of the state’s population. Furthermore, with only seventeen counties (with Trump having won fifteen of them in 2016 and 2020), this also makes it difficult to draw up subsections for the state. While Clinton won Nevada in 2016 despite losing Arizona, that doesn’t take away from the similarities these states have with regards to me writing this series.

With that said, let’s dive in.

Big Picture

Joe Biden- 703,486 (50.06 percent, up 2.14 percent from Clinton in 2016)

Donald Trump- 669,890 (47.67 percent, up 2.17 percent from 2016)

FiveThirtyEight Projection- 52.3 for Biden (up 2.24), 46.2 for Trump (down 1.47)

RCP Average- 48.7 for Biden (down 1.36), 46.3 for Trump (down 1.37)

OurProgress Projection- 51.27 for Biden (up 1.21), 45.42 for Trump (down 2.25)

In many ways, Nevada is overshadowed by Arizona. They both have somewhat similar geography and demographics; however, there are two reasons this overshadowing occurs. One is that Arizona is larger and has more electoral votes than Nevada (eleven in Arizona versus just six in Nevada). But I think the other reason is that nowadays, Nevada is perceived as a prize that Democrats have already secured. Despite being a swing state, there was more confidence that the state would go blue than there was for Arizona based on recent history.

In reality, though, Nevada has had a long history of being a bellwether state. Since 1912, Nevada has sided with the eventual presidential winner in all but two elections (the exceptions being 1976 and 2016). While it has voted Democratic in the last four presidential elections, there have been plenty of instances in modern history where it has voted Republican. And even looking at the map, one can see the strong competitive advantage Republicans have given their dominance in Carson City and the vast, rural stretches of the state. But in the end, the Democrats have prevailed statewide.

As of Election Day, there have been 103,025 COVID cases in this subsection, ranking 32nd among the states. Considering that Nevada is ranked 33rd by population, this makes sense proportionally; however, its incidence rate of 3.3 percent ranks 17th among the states. On the other hand, there have been 1,807 deaths (29th among the states), setting the fatality rate at just 1.8 percent (or 31st among the states). But the real impact for Nevada came economically. The state’s largest county, Clark, was in the top ten for highest unemployment increases in the United States, given the reliance of tourism and hospitality in Las Vegas. This hit ultimately dragged down the entire state, where unemployment went from 6.9 percent in March to 30.1 percent in April, the largest increase of any state. Considering this, any discussion of the pandemic in Nevada must include the economic ramifications.

And as of Election Day, there have been 123 BLM protests in Nevada, which ranks 37th among the states. This makes sense because despite having a major city in Las Vegas, the state as a whole doesn’t have favorable demographics for bolstering significant protest activity. The state only has the 31st largest black population in raw numbers (but it’s 23rd largest by percentage), the 33rd highest amount of college graduates (or 45th by percentage), and the 32nd largest young adult population (or 33rd by percentage). Similar to Nevada, the state does have a large Hispanic population; however, this alone doesn’t compensate for the lack of favorable demographics in other categories.

As for exit polls, Biden won 43 percent of white voters, a 5-point improvement from Clinton in 2016; however, this improvement failed to cut into President Trump’s strength with this group, carrying 56 percent of this vote. Meanwhile, Biden won 80 percent of black voters, the same as Clinton in 2016; however, this is down from the 87 percent he received nationwide in this election. And Biden also won 61 percent of Hispanic voters, which closely matches Clinton’s performance.

Regarding educational attainment, Biden won 53 percent of college graduates and 49 percent of white college graduates, both of which are improvements from the 49 percent and 43 percent Clinton received respectively. In this regard, Biden did a significantly better job at courting the white college graduate vote in Nevada. But on the other hand, President Trump won 50 percent of voters without a college degree and 60 percent of white voters without a college degree, both of which are comparable to his 2016 showing.

As for age, Biden made notable improvements with younger voters relative to Clinton, winning 63 percent of voters in the 18–29 bracket (compared to 52 percent in 2016) and 58 percent of voters in the 30–44 bracket (compared to 52 percent in 2016). On the other hand, President Trump retained his advantage of older voters while Biden barely made a dent, winning 56 percent of voters in the 45–64 bracket and 53 percent of voters over 65. Overall, while the generation gap grew between 2016 and 2020, most of that came from younger voters pushing further into the Democratic column than from older voters becoming more emboldened behind President Trump.

Geographically, Biden’s strong advantage in Clark County is apparent as he won 52 percent of urban voters and 58 percent of suburban voters, both of which reflect Clinton’s showing in 2016. On the other hand, President Trump won 68 percent of rural voters, which also reflects his 2016 performance fairly closely.

Socioeconomically, 13 percent of Nevada voters said that the pandemic has caused them severe financial hardship (compared to 16 percent nationwide), of which 65 percent voted for Biden. 38 percent of voters said that the pandemic has caused them moderate financial hardship (compared to 39 percent nationwide), of which 54 percent voted for Biden. And 47 percent of voters said the pandemic has caused them no financial hardship (compared to 44 percent nationwide), of which 55 percent voted for President Trump. Regarding income, although President Trump was more competitive with voters in the lower and middle brackets than in 2016, Biden still won 56 percent of voters making under $50,000 (compared to 60 percent for Clinton in 2016) and 50 percent voters in the $50,000 to $99,999 bracket (compared to 50 percent for Clinton in 2016). Meanwhile, President Trump won 55 percent of voters making over $100,000, down from the 58 percent he got in 2016, but still pretty impressive.

When asked about their most important issue, 36 percent of Nevada voters said the economy (slightly more than the rest of the country), of which 87 percent voted for President Trump. Meanwhile, 22 percent said the pandemic was their most important issue and 14 percent said racial inequality, of which 85 percent and 90 percent voted for Biden respectively. And when asked what was more important to accomplish, 49 percent prioritized containing the virus (of which 84 percent voted for Biden) while 46 percent prioritized reopening the economy (of which 82 percent voted for President Trump).

Given the small numbers of counties in the state, a regression analysis is not appropriate as the small sample size would yield a large standard error for any coefficients. Because of this, it would be difficult to establish any meaningful relationships for this state.

Nevada’s Democratic Counties

Clark (Las Vegas city proper and surrounding communities)- Biden Hold

Biden- 521,852 (54.77 percent, up 2.34), Trump- 430,930 (45.23 percent, up 3.51)

OurProgress Projection- 57.27 for Biden (up 2.5), 42.73 for Trump (down 2.5)

Washoe (Reno city proper and surrounding communities)- Biden Hold

Biden- 128,128 (52.32 percent, up 5.93), Trump- 116,760 (47.68 percent, up 2.54)

OurProgress Projection- 53.5 for Biden (up 1.18), 46.5 for Trump (down 1.18)

There are only counties that are worth discussing when it comes to Biden’s victory. As mentioned above, the remaining counties were not only won by President Trump, but are classified as solidly Republican counties, so it’s unlikely that the Biden campaign expended much resources into driving up votes there. But these two counties played a critical role in his victory here this past November.

First, there’s Clark County, which houses nearly three-quarters of the state’s population. Being home to Las Vegas and its metropolitan area, this county is large and diverse. It was also the central battleground for the two campaigns as they fought to win the county. Clark also has a strong Democratic history, having back all of the party’s candidates since 1992. In 2016, Clinton won Clark with 52.4 percent of the vote which, while enough to win Nevada, was down from the 56.4 percent that President Obama received in 2012. This time around, however, there was speculation that the economic backlash to the public health restrictions might help President Trump in Clark County, given its heavy dependence on tourism. Given the results seen in other states, this wasn’t an unreasonable assumption to make. But in the end, Biden made modest improvements here, winning 54.8 percent, enough to win the state.

The other county is Washoe, tucked into the northwest corner of the state. In some ways, it’s similar to Clark in that it contains the city of Reno, which many perceive as a smaller version of Las Vegas with its heavy emphasis on tourism. What’s interesting about this county, though, is that it neighbors Carson City, the county that includes the state capital. But whereas Carson City is more conservative and went for President Trump in both of his elections, Washoe went for both of his Democratic opponents. While it doesn’t have the same Democratic tradition that Clark has, Washoe has still backed all of the party’s candidates since 2008. In 2016, Clinton won Washoe 46.4 percent of the vote which is up from the 38.4 percent she got in Carson City, but down from 50.8 percent that President Obama got in Washoe in 2012. While Clark was the backbone of Clinton’s Nevada performance in 2016, her competitive showing in Washoe should not be understated Even if their margins in Clark were the same, if she and Trump received the same vote share in Washoe as they received in the neighboring Carson City, Clinton would have lost the state. Meanwhile in 2020, Biden improved upon these numbers, getting 52.3 percent of Washoe and even 44.1 percent in the neighboring Carson City. Both these numbers are good enough to where Biden still would have won the state by about 13,574 votes if he and Trump got the same vote shares in Washoe as they did in Carson City.

Demographically, there are notable differences between these two counties. Clark County is more racially and ethnically diverse, with 30.5 percent of its population being nonwhite and 31.6 percent being Hispanic. On the other hand, Washoe’s population is only 15.3 percent nonwhite, but it’s 25 percent Hispanic. Going further, Clark’s population is 13.1 percent black, 1.2 percent Native American, 10.4 percent Asian, and 4.9 percent multiracial. Meanwhile, Washoe’s population is 2.8 percent black, 2.2 percent Native American, 5.8 percent Asian, and 3.9 percent multiracial. And regarding educational attainment, both these counties are in the top half of the state. Washoe is ranked first in the state for percentage of college graduates (at 30.5 percent) while Clark is ranked third (at 23.9 percent).

Socioeconomically, both of these counties are in the middle of the pack for median household income, with Washoe ranking 7th (at $63,636) and Clark ranking 11th (at $57,155). Similarly, both of them are in the middle of the pack for poverty, although Washoe has the fifth lowest poverty rate at 10.4 percent while Clark has the fifth highest at 14 percent. And for unemployment, Clark had the third highest unemployment rate in August 2019 at 3.9 percent while Washoe had the 12th highest rate with about 3 percent. This makes sense, given how Clark’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and services, which are sensitive to economic downturns or shifts in travel patterns.

As of Election Day, there have been 97,989 COVID cases in this subsection, with the vast majority of them occurring in Clark County. In Clark, the incidence rate was 3.7 percent (above the state average) while in Washoe, the incidence rate was 2.9 percent. On the other hand, there have been 1,741 deaths in this subsection, setting the fatality rate at 1.8 percent. Regarding timing, there was a clear spike in cases from the early months to the summer months; in Clark County, this growth was exponential. And while there were fewer cases in the early fall months, the figure was still above that seen in the early months. And economically, the major story is Clark, where the 26.9 percent increase in unemployment from March to April was the ninth highest in the entire country. The public health restrictions, coupled with the drastic reduction in tourism, devastated Las Vegas’s economy. But none of that should suggest that Washoe got off likely. With Reno serving as a major economic hub, the pandemic also left a dent on Washoe, as its unemployment rate went from 5.6 percent in March to 20.4 percent in April, a 14.8-point hit. While this subsection has largely recovered in the months since then, the unemployment rate in September was still at 14.8 percent in Clark and 6.7 percent in Washoe.

Finally, there have been 101 BLM protests in this subsection as of Election Day, with 84 happening in Clark and 17 happening in Washoe. While these two counties have some favorable demographics, most of these numbers come from their sheer population size. In Clark’s case, the central location of Las Vegas facilitated protest activity more so than the composition of its population.

Conclusion

Overall, there are many similarities in Nevada with Arizona, regarding its population, geography, and demographics. But I feel like on the whole, there was less intrigue here than with Arizona, in that there were only two counties where Biden was competitive in. And since both of these counties have already been in the Democratic fold for multiple elections, it wasn’t a particularly major transformation either.

Even so, Nevada and Arizona combined reflect an increasingly growing component of the Democratic coalition, which the 2020 election helped cement. In a lot of ways, one can say that winning Nevada offered a blueprint for Democrats to become more competitive in Arizona, which had been a Republican stronghold for decades. Now that Trump is out of office, the next big test for this region is how it will vote in future elections, whether its shift to the left stemmed more from a backlash against Trump or if it demonstrates that the demographic transformations in recent decades have solidified a sustainable winning strategy for Democrats moving forward.

So that’s it for this part of this series. If you enjoyed this, please like and follow the Book Aisle. Also share this article on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms.

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