Well, I finally did it: I voted! It was a fairly long line at my neighborhood grocery store, but I was in and out of there in about 30 minutes. In a sense, my early voting center is a microcosm of early voting in Nevada thus far: Nothing huge, but a much bigger deal than what we’ve seen in past midterm elections.
So what else is happening in Nevada? Here’s how early voting is shaping up and shaking out as we near the halfway point.
Six days in, who’s really winning?
In a way, this really feels like 2010 all over again. While Nevada Republicans are spinning national media pundits with tales of “red tides” and “Trump bumps”, the real insider conversation is pointing to cautious optimism among Democrats. So who’s telling the truth, and who’s just shooting the breeze?
Out of over 271,000 ballots cast thus far (with only a few rural counties left to report Thursday tallies), Democrats have a 1.28% statewide turnout lead, or about 3,480 raw votes. Democrats’ percentage lead has slipped since Tuesday, but the raw vote lead has remained fairly steady for the past three days.
Why does any of this matter? Remember that in 2014, Republicans had about a 10% turnout lead out of nearly 136,000 ballots cast in the first week. And in 2010, Republicans had a 125 raw vote lead (or again, basically dead even) out of just over 161,000 ballots cast in the first week. So as we near the end of the first week of early voting in 2018, it remains the case that Democrats have strongly rebounded from their hellish nightmare four years ago, and that they’re still slightly ahead of where they were at this point in “Harry Reid’s final rodeo” eight years ago.
Looking ahead: 30,000 reasons why
If you’ve been following Jon Ralston’s incredibly thorough early voting blog at all, you know that he’s been talking a lot about the “Clark County Democratic firewall”. To summarize, Democrats will be in big trouble if they don’t finish early voting with at least a 30,000 raw vote lead in Clark County. But if Democrats finish early voting with a raw vote lead of 35,000 or more in Clark County, Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak will probably feel more confident going into Election Night. And if Democrats finish early voting with a raw vote lead above 40,000, it may be lights out for Republicans in nearly all the statewide races.
Why does this matter? In 2010, Democrats ended up with about a 25,000 raw vote lead from Clark County and near parity with Republicans statewide. Harry Reid won the U.S. Senate race by just over 41,000 votes that year and carried four of the six other statewide Democratic candidates with him across the finish line. Four years later, Republicans actually finished early voting with a very slight Clark County raw vote lead and about a 24,000 ballot lead statewide, then went on to win a full sweep of all statewide offices.
Long story short: Democrats need that “Clark County firewall” to withstand an onslaught of rural votes and a near-draw in Washoe County. While it’s still uncertain whether or not the recent bumper crop of rural early votes indicate Republicans “frontloading” more of their most loyal voters (who would have otherwise voted on November 6), it’s a near guarantee that the total amount of rural votes will produce big margins for Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt. So the higher that “Clark firewall” is, the better chance Rosen and Sisolak have of taking the lead on election night and keeping it all the way through.
Let’s bring it all into proper historical context
At the end of the first week of early voting in 2010, just under 14.4% of active registered voters had cast ballots. At the same point in 2014, just over 11.2% of active registered voters had cast ballots. Thus far in 2018, almost 17.4% of active registered voters have cast ballots. Oh, and keep in mind that we don’t have Friday numbers yet, so the final Week 1 count will undoubtedly be even higher this year.
Usually, turnout jumps higher in Week 2. (About 60% of early votes were cast in the second week in 2010, and about 56% of early votes were cast in the second week in 2014.) And then, traditional election day voters end up comprising about 40% of the total amount of ballots cast. (They were 39% in 2010 and 44% in 2014.) There are no recorded partisan breakdowns for 2010, but the election day vote was not far off from the early vote in 2014. And in case you’re wondering, 2012 and 2016 featured Democrats performing better in the early vote and Republicans doing better on election day (though Democrats still got a very slight turnout advantage both years).
So to bring it back to 2018, if Democrats finish this week with a 16,000 raw vote lead or higher (as is looking very likely) in Clark County, they’ll be on track to finish above 35,000 (and might be able to reach 40,000). If 2018 turnout follows a similar trajectory to the last two midterms, we’ll see more voters turn out next week and another wave of voters on November 6 with a partisan composition fairly similar to that of the early voters. But if 2018 ends up being some sort of “mini-presidential” year that some pundits have hypothesized, then Democrats will need to build a larger statewide lead in case Republicans benefit from a robust election day vote.
As we enter the weekend, keep an eye on the Clark County numbers and rural turnout. If “the rural onslaught” continues to peter out, we may have a better sense of whether the earlier numbers are evidence of “GOP frontloading”. And if Clark County numbers stay relatively robust, we may have evidence of another “Cardenas effect” coming into play. Until later, Happy Nevada Day… And if you haven’t voted yet, you have one more week to vote early!