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.
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!
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).
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.