Why Nevada Is the Most Unpredictable Swing State in the 2024 Election

(Bloomberg) -- Of all the battleground states in the US presidential election, none is a greater puzzle for Joe Biden and Donald Trump than Nevada.

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That’s because the state – with its relatively sparse population and high proportion of Spanish-speaking residents – is unusually difficult to poll. In one example of its inscrutability, two surveys conducted on overlapping days in May had sharply different results: A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll found Biden and Trump tied in Nevada, while a New York Times/Siena College poll found the Republican ahead by 12 points.

No other battleground state has produced such a wide range of recent polling results, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Add to that some of the most rapid demographic change anywhere in the US, and the state whose major population center is Las Vegas is shaping up to be the race’s biggest crapshoot.

Nevada has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since 2008, but Biden’s margin of victory there in 2020 was less than 3 percentage points. In this year’s contest, as the state grapples with inflation as well as one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, the RealClearPolitics average of Nevada polls has Trump leading by 5.7 percentage points.

Pollsters with experience in taking the pulse of Nevada say it presents a number of challenges. The 24-hour workforce in Las Vegas makes it difficult to reach shift workers between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., a typical time for pollsters to call voters. About 23% of Nevada workers are in the food and lodging businesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“People can be very, very hard to reach, for a lot of reasons — not the least of which is that many people have different kinds of working schedules than they have in the rest of country,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.

Language is also a factor: About 23% of Nevada’s eligible voters don’t speak English as their first language. About 6.6% of the state’s population doesn’t speak English well at all — the highest such population of any battleground state, according to the Census Bureau. Polls that ask questions only in English will miss that population, and even asking in Spanish doesn’t reach voters who speak neither language — a group that is larger in Nevada than any other battleground state.

Both Trump and Biden have made multiple visits to Nevada this year in an effort to claim its six electoral votes. Their campaigns face a difficult task in deciding how many advertising dollars to deploy there and how much effort to put into a Nevada ground game, because it’s hard to know how winnable the state is.

Adding to their conundrum, a Bloomberg News analysis of public and private data found that Nevada has the fastest-changing electorate of any battleground state, with as much as 19% of the eligible voter population turning over since the 2020 election. State-to-state migration, young voters and newly naturalized US citizens have all contributed to that turnover.

Jon Ralston, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Nevada Independent newsroom, says that it’s hard to get a handle on which way those new voters lean, because they’re largely registering without a party affiliation. That reflects a change in state law to automatically register voters as nonpartisan as the default – but also signifies a long-term trend away from the two major parties, especially among young voters.

Among those with a party affiliation, Republicans have cut the Democratic registration advantage in half, to about 52,600 voters.

“Polling here has never been that great,” said Ralston. “It’s been increasingly difficult to get a handle on the Nevada electorate, which has changed a lot.”

Exit polls showed that Nevada’s independents broke for Trump by 13 percentage points in 2016, but Biden flipped them for a 6-point advantage in 2020.

A Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll in May — the one that had Biden and Trump tied in Nevada — showed Trump leading among independent voters by 8 percentage points.

The New York Times/Siena poll conducted at about the same time found Trump’s lead among independents to be even larger: 20 points.

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