Beware Nevada Polls

It is wonderful to see that Mitt Romney has broken through in some Nevada polls and taken a lead in the Silver State.  This was a state with many of the trappings that were supposed to fell President Obama this year but through a number of missteps the state’s six electoral votes have stubbornly stayed in the hands of Democrats. Following the first Presidential debate drubbing, however, Nevada like the other Battlegrounds has witnessed a surge in support for Romney.  It is still exceedingly close and there aren’t that many polls putting Romney in the lead but regardless of the circumstances you need to start leading in a few polls if you are going to honestly continue to argue the race is competitive.

Nevada however has its own issues that make polling erratic in the state.  An overwhelming number of votes come from one region (Las Vegas/Clark County) and the rest of the state spreads far and wide with sparsely populated voters making it difficult to poll.  The expert on this state is Jon Ralston, formerly of the Las Vegas Journal-Review and now launching his own subscription based Ralston Reports.  He has an exceptional essay (teasing his subscription service, of course) regarding the weaknesses in Nevada polls and how they often over-state Republican support — a great change from what we see elsewhere.You can disagree with his politics — he claims an Independent streak although he’s really a big ol’ Lefty — but you disagree with his analysis of Nevada at your own peril.  he is consistently the smartest and most honest political reporter in Nevada who regularly brings the best analysis no matter whose side the is in the lead.

A few words about all of these polls on the presidential race in Nevada: Don’t believe them.

Yes, I was telling you the same thing two years ago when every poll (almost) showed Sharron Angle would be the next U.S. senator from Nevada. That didn’t happen, and all of those polls were wrong for different reasons, which eventually comes down to the same reason: [T]he best pollsters – this is the key – know how to weight the results to fit the picture that will exist on Election Day – that is, what the turnout actually will look like.

The reason Harry Reid’s pollster, Mark Mellman, nailed the result in 2010 was that he correctly forecast what the demographics of the turnout would look like – how many Hispanics, how much Clark County would be of the total, the difference between GOP and Democratic turnout. And the better pollsters know how to change their models as the campaign evolves, to adjust for whatever atmospherics require some adjustment. [The problem with today’s polls is they] do not take into account either the surge in Democratic registration or recent history – i.e. the last two cycles.

Nevada today

The Democratic wave of 2008 is unlikely to be duplicated here four years later, with a devastated economy. It is possible that Democratic turnout will be depressed compared to the previous two cycles, which could dramatically change the result. But what Democrats here know – as do good pollsters – is that Republicans traditionally turn out in greater numbers than Democrats —  anywhere from 4 to 6 percent. So you have to adjust your numbers for that fact as well as the registration changes. And the greater the registration advantage the Democrats have, the less the GOP turnout edge affects the share of the vote the Democrats will have in the end.

[H]istory indicates just how much trouble the GOP could be in here — from president on down — if historical turnout trends hold. [M]y bottom line for now is: Remember 2010. Nearly every poll you saw showed that Angle was going to win — as did Angle’s internals. And she lost by nearly 6 points. Six points!

Voter Registration

The raw numbers this cycle are very similar in Clark County to what they were in 2008 — about a 125,000-voter lead (it actually is going to be slightly larger this time.) The way it works is that the South makes up 70 percent of the vote, and if you don’t take that into account in your poll, you won’t show the kind of raw number lead that Democratic statewide candidates are likely to have (Obama’s will be greater than Rep. Shelley Berkley’s) that make Republican candidates chances less and less real. Despite what all of those polls say, Romney’s path to victory in Nevada now is much more problematic than any Republican will acknowledge.


In 2008, when Democrats had that 125,000-voter edge, Obama won Clark County by more than 122,000 votes, or 19 percent. John McCain never had a chance after that and lost by 12 points. The edge is similar four years later, and while Mitt Romney has contested the state in a way McCain did not, the math isn’t much different. Unless the Democrats turn out in record low numbers relative to Republicans, Romney cannot win unless independents overwhelmingly go for him. And none of those polls show that (indeed, even GOP-leaning Rasmussen shows Obama winning indies by 10).

Who’s winning?

Any pollster who takes into account all of those factors would come out with a survey showing the president up by a half-dozen points or so. Any poll that doesn’t has a turnout model that either doesn’t make sense, is partisan-biased or is simply garbage.


  1. Commonsenseobserver
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink | Reply

    More reasons to work harder!

  2. bman77
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    Well, so much for the alternative path if we lose Ohio. Ohio truly is the key. Doesn’t look like there really is a backup plan.

    • Posted October 13, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink | Reply

      Who says we are going to lose Ohio, Pluffe or Nate Silver?

  3. Posted October 13, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink | Reply

    In 2008, 0bama won Nevada in two counties, Clark ( by 19%) and Washoe ( by 12.5%) which is a combined 18% of Obama’s gross margin. McCain won the rest of Nevada by 20%. If Romney keeps 0bama below 16% in those two counties assuming he does not underperform McCain in the rest of State, Romney will win Nevada.

  4. Posted October 13, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    Problem #1 – what was GOP turnout in relationship to registration in 2008? That’s just as important of a question.

    Problem #2 – Democrats are treated as monolithic. I think we can assume that there will be a diminished turnout and also that President Obama’s Democratic share may decrease a little bit. You have a guy like Steve Wynn, Democrat who will vote for the other side, turning and basically saying he won’t vote for Obama again. How common is that?

    Problem #3 – Sharron Angle was a bad candidate. General consensus is that one of the other GOP candidates likely would have won that seat and defeated Reid. Romney is far from terrible.

    Problem #4 – Turnout. Outside of Clark County, how good was the turnout, or was it done in the more GOP centered areas?

    Problem #5 – Betcha several Republicans crossed over in 2008 in Clark County. Nevada seems a place where some GOPers would have been interested in the high minded rhetoric and bought in.

    I’m not saying Nevada is in the bag, but there are a lot of assumptions. Nevada still has a bad economy and there is still a lot of dissatisfied customers there. I’d expect a lot of President Obama’s support is soft. In fact, my gut says a lot of that soft support will actually switch to Romney when they actually have to fill out a ballot. That’s only my gut, but the question Romney has been driving home – Do we want four more years like the last four? – will have traction.

    • Posted October 13, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink | Reply

      If you look at the UC Boulder model, Romney is predicted to lose Nevada. Therefore, Romney does not need to win Nevada. If you look at where the Romney is campaigning pretty sums up the race. I believe that they believe they have Pennsylvania. Having said that, I think Romney-Ryan will win Nevada based on the underperformace by 0bama in the polls.

      • Posted October 13, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        I actually think there’ll be a wave. If Pennsylvania goes red, it’s a question of when. If Pennsylvania gets called for Romney, the election gets called for Romney.

        And with Obama not doing much in Michigan, I think that domino may fall as well. UC’s projections say otherwise, but if it’s a wave then a lot of states will move to Romney and we may see a few surprises (like Oregon).

  5. Posted October 13, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    if you apply the Suffolk University/KSNV poll to the 2008 results 0bama leads in Nevada by 0.1%. I am not sure what the threshold is for a recount in Nevada is.

  6. bman77
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    not saying we lose Ohio, it would seem that is our best chance, so we better win it. Don’t think it’s realistic to think we lose Ohio and win by picking off Nevada, PA, etc. If we win Ohio then maybe some of these other states fall into place, but lose Ohio and then somehow win PA and Nevada and Iowa, etc..doesn’t sound like a believable path to victory to me.

  7. Posted October 13, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    Reid won because of republican crossover, specific, Las Vegas business. Just look at Reid’s tactics and ads. If Ralston is saying differently, he’s wrong. If he thinks otherwise, ask him where Rory wound up.

  8. Chris
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Ralston seems to be looking at this from a glass half-full perspective for Nevada. Romney is no Sharron Angle, and he seems to be assuming that the electorate will largely look like 2008 when there’s nothing to suggest it will be. Also, from what I understand the McCain camp ran out of money and was unable to bus in volunteers to help there. The Romney team HAS been doing that this time around. I don’t know if Mitt wins there, but he’s got a decent shot.

    I think the Obama camp sees OH as their ultimate firewall, and I bet that’s where they focus the majority of their resources.

  9. No Tribe
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The other wildcard is the Mormon vote. How much do they usually vote Democratic? 7% of the population, but probably 12% of the voters in ’12. And 95% for Romney. It’s probably worth an extra 15,000 to 30,000 votes for Romney.

  10. Zang
    Posted October 13, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ralston’s point – and it is a good one – is that there seems to be some systemic polling issues in Nevada. There was about an 8 point spread between the Reaclearpolitics’ final polling average for Angle and the actual result. A smaller spread of 4 points for Brian Sandoval. In 2008, the final poll averages for Nevada underestimated Obama’s final number there by 6% That’s a pretty big spread!

    Now here’s some encouraging news… Suffolk was pretty close to one the money in both 2008 and 2010 (one of the few public pollsters to predict a Reid victory). In their most recent poll that was just released, Romney is down by only 2.

    In addition, the “Retail Assoc. of Nevada/POS (R)” correctly predicted a Reid victory of 5% Their most recent poll in Nevada shows the race there to be tied.

    So the bottom line is yes… NV polls have been pretty well whacked in the past… but two of the pollsters who have been right there in the past now have the race as a dead heat. The fact that the other pollsters seem to be in agreement seems to suggest that the pollsters have fixed their methodologies for that state.

  11. Mandrake
    Posted October 14, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    What Ralston neglects to consider in his analysis, though, is that NV has a large Morman population amongst registered Democrats who might be crossing over to the other side for this elction.

  12. zang
    Posted October 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Just checked the internals for the latest Suffolk Nevada poll. 69% of respondents are from Clark County. I’m not sure how many other pollsters weight by regions within the state, but this seems key to accuracy based on what Ralston said.

  13. bsmith
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Ralston is a democratic hack. Might as well take expert analysis from Obama’s campaign manager

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