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Taking a closer look at Nevada’s election turnout

Updated November 18, 2018 - 1:11 am

CARSON CITY — Last week’s elections in Nevada were not the best turnout for a midterm year. In fact, despite an early surge in early voting and three-hour waits to vote in parts of the state on election night, turnout was pretty average.

But behind those numbers lie compelling data, borne out in voter surveys and the outcome itself — a sweep for Democrats at virtually all levels.

Moreso than most other states, Nevada’s election was a referendum on a man who was everywhere — but nowhere on the ballot: President Trump. And the dominance by Democrats was the strongest sign yet that the state has moved decisively into the blue column of the blue-red divide.

Democrats, who won all but one of the statewide races, took the U.S. Senate race and three of four U.S. House races, and added to their majorities in the Legislature. Fred Lokken, chairman of the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, said they “seemed to tie every major issue to the Trump administration.”

“This is the election where we solidified a move to the blue,” he said. “I can’t expect us ever to come back.”

Nevada’s official canvass of results happens Nov. 27. Even then, the state does not measure demographic trends and differences in how the electorate here votes. But this year The Associated Press, in conjunction with the University of Chicago’s NORC research center, surveyed more than 120,000 voters nationally, and more than 3,400 in Nevada. The state results have a margin of error of 2 percentage points. Some of the findings:

— White voters favored the top of the Republican ticket — here the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Dean Heller and the winning challenger, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, by about 11 points, 54-43. But Hispanics voted for Democrats by 2 to 1 or better, and black voters favored Democrats by 7 to 1. Whites still comprise two-thirds of the total electorate, blacks 10 percent, and Hispanics 14 percent.

— Voters between 18 and 44 comprise about the same size voting block as 45 to 64-year-olds, about 36 percent. Between 56 and 62 percent of the younger cohort, depending on age, voted for the Democrat, while the older group slightly favored the Republican, 49-48. Those 65 or older, formidable for their consistency in turning out to vote as well as for their numbers — they are 28 percent of the total — went for the Republican by 10 points over the Democrat.

More of the Nevada-based results, and those of several other states, are available on the Washington Post’s state page.

Most voters here saw health care as their top issue — another factor that helped Democrats.

And more than two-thirds said Trump was a factor in how they voted. Forty percent said their vote was to show their opposition, 27 percent to show their support, and 31 percent said he was not a factor.

Look at six other states on that question — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota and Texas — and nowhere was opposition to Trump higher, support for or indifference toward him lower. Some additional takeaways based on state results:

Snapshot

Turnout

In 10 midterm elections dating to 1982, this year’s 62.4 percent turnout rate runs in the middle of the pack, at No. 5. Going back through the 1980s, 1982’s midterm turnout was highest, at 75 percent. The next highest is 1986, with 71.9 percent.

The turnout figures are a little misleading, though. Nevada measures turnout against the number of “active registered voters,” which is smaller than the category of “total voters.” And the state’s number of total voters, in turn, is smaller than “eligible voters,” which would include almost every adult 18 or over.

It’s a big numerical difference. For example, the U.S. Census in November 2016 put Nevada’s voting age population at 1.94 million. The state “total voter” number for same month was 1.69 million, about 13 percent less. Nevada’s turnout rate, by the eligible voter measure, routinely lands it in the bottom 10 among U.S. states, and sometimes in the bottom five.

A ballot question approved by voters last week might help that. Question 5, which passed by a 60-40 margin, provides for automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Better than last time

The 972,048 voters who cast ballots this year blew the 2014 turnout (552,369) out of the water. But it’s not a great comparison, because 2014’s anemic 45.6 percent turnout was the lowest for a midterm in at least four decades. The next lowest rate since the 1980s was in 1998, with 49 percent.

Why was 2014 so low? For one, every third midterm in the state has no U.S. Senate race, and 2014 was one such year. Also in 2014, the quadrennial governor’s race was a sleeper, with Gov. Brian Sandoval coasting to a second term and winning with nearly 71 percent of the vote.

Democrats stayed home that year, Lokken said. Four years earlier, in 2010, the U.S. Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle helped drive turnout to 64.6 percent, third highest for a midterm since 1982.

Turnout in 2010 is better for comparing this year’s results. It ran at 64.6 percent, third-highest among the last 10 midterms.

Early voting

It started out strong but fizzled, ending at 57 percent of all ballots cast, and about one-third of all active voters. As a percentage of the total vote, it was high for a midterm but not for a presidential year.

“It’s started strong, but it really did seem to taper off,” Lokken said. “A lot of our surge came on Election Day. But the Democratic surge began early in the election cycle.”

Total vote

Though the turnout rate was lower than 2010, 250,000 more people voted in 2018 compared with 2010. Almost all of that could be measured Clark and Washoe counties, which accounted for more than 92 percent of the overall increase. Both saw their countywide numbers jump by more than 25 percent compared to eight years ago.

It’s a further sign that the state’s densely populated urban and suburban pockets — more diverse, wealthier and better educated — are overwhelming the state’s far larger, and more conservative rural ramparts. Fewer than 400 people voted in Esmeralda County — 372 to be exact. But only 850 people live there, according to 2017 census data, so that was nearly 63 percent of its 591 active voters.

The second smallest voting county, Eureka, also had the highest turnout rate, 74.6 percent, or 761 of its 1,020 voters.

Voting age

If you think that time is taking its toll on older Nevada voters, you would be wrong. Voters 65 or older represent the largest bloc of voters in the state record, 24 percent of the total. The next largest group are 25-34 year-olds, at 17.3 percent. Those 18-24 still make up the smallest portion, 10.6 percent.

But the 18-24-year-old group has also grown the fastest since 2010, more than 63 percent. Next fastest growing are 25-34-year-olds at 58 percent. Almost as fast-growing: those oldsters, at nearly 56 percent.

Finally, here’s a true or false question: Nye County saw a high turnout rate as voters swarmed to support deceased brothel owner Dennis Hof for state Assembly.

That’s false. Nye County had the third lowest turnout rate, with 17,500 of its 29,000 active voters casting ballots, or 60.4 percent. Only Clark (59.7 percent) and Lyon (58.4 percent) counties saw lower turnout. Those three, in slightly different order, have also averaged the lowest turnout in the last four elections dating to 2010.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @Dentzernews on Twitter.

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