When I say “Rural Nevada”, what comes to mind? I’m pretty sure I already know what some of you are thinking.
What if I told you President-elect Joe Biden did well enough in the rurals in order to win statewide? I’m not kidding. Let’s take a (virtual) road trip across our fine Silver State to see for ourselves how this happened.
Yes, we have more receipts. But this time, they’re a little different.
If you remember our “Blueprint for a Blue Wave” series from 2018, you know that I don’t like to hide my methodology from you. To see how I calculated these numbers, check out the official results posted on the Nevada Secretary of State website, the Secretary of State archives of prior election results, and Daily Kos Elections’ incredibly valuable breakdown of presidential election results by congressional district.
To better keep track of where we’re going, here are the Decision Desk HQ Nevada results page, Our Campaigns’ archive of past Nevada election results, the Nevada Secretary of State’s election results page that includes down-ballot races, and The Economist’s 2020 election national results page that includes some valuable breakdowns of the overall results.
Also keep in mind that “NVLeg” is an abbreviation for the Nevada Legislature. While all Assembly Districts (AD’s) were up this year, Senate Districts (SD’s) are staggered between presidential years and midterm years.
Because we’re heading into Rural Nevada today, we’ll just be looking at county-level results. Since some rural counties haven’t released precinct-level results in their respective statements of vote, we’re just going to have to work with the data we have in front of us.
Biden 33.91%, Biden got 136.87% of Hillary Clinton’s raw vote
Trump 63.38%, Trump got 124.20% of his 2016 raw vote
Ackerman 31.07%, Ackerman got 89.79% of Biden’s raw vote
Amodei 66.88%, Amodei got 103.40% of Trump’s raw vote (in 2020)
(NVLeg SD 17 will be up in 2022.)
NVLeg AD 39
Chang 30.06%, Chang got 86.05% of Biden’s raw vote
Wheeler 67.15%, Wheeler got 102.84% of Trump’s raw vote
Every Republican presidential nominee has won Douglas County since Wendell Willkie beat then President Franklin D. Roosevelt there in 1940. Even when then President Lyndon B. Johnson was winning all other Nevada counties in 1964, Douglas was one of three counties (Lyon and Churchill were the other two) that then U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) kept in the red column.
When we take this history into account, it’s not really surprising that outgoing President Donald Trump won Douglas County again this year. But as we saw in Washoe County, President-elect Joe Biden’s strength with college-educated voters also materialized in this county that also has a somewhat higher share of college-educated residents than Nevada overall. Though Trump’s 29.47% margin of victory this year looks hefty, it’s actually slightly narrower than his 2016 margin.
Biden 28.02%, Biden got 137.86% of Hillary Clinton’s raw vote
Trump 69.16%, Trump got 130.67% of his 2016 raw vote
President for NV-02 Portion
Biden 28.97%, Biden got 138.78% of Hillary Clinton’s raw vote
Trump 68.11%, Trump got 132.42% of his 2016 raw vote
President for NV-04 Portion
Biden 23.50%, Biden got 132.69% of Hillary Clinton’s raw vote
Trump 74.22%, Trump got 123.54% of his 2016 raw vote
Ackerman 27.47%, Ackerman got 93.01% of Biden’s raw vote
Amodei 69.29%, Amodei got 99.78% of Trump’s raw vote (in 2020)
Horsford 22.55%, Horsford got 93.50% of Biden’s raw vote
Marchant 74.54%, Marchant got 97.86% of Trump’s raw vote
(NVLeg SD 17 will be up in 2022. NVLeg AD 38 was unopposed in 2020, and we have incomplete data for NVLeg AD 39.)
While Douglas County has been “rock-ribbed Republican” for the last eight decades, then Assembly Speaker Joe Dini (D-Yerington) won his seat based here in Lyon County all the way up to 2000. Yet like other rural regions across America, Democrats’ residual strength here has gradually vanished over the last two decades.
Though Trump’s 41.14% margin of victory in Lyon County this year is slightly lower than his 2016 performance, it’s still over double that of then Vice President Richard Nixon’s in 1960, even though President John F. Kennedy’s 2.32% statewide margin of victory in 1960 was only ever-so-narrower than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 and Joe Biden’s in 2020.
Unlike Clark County, where down-ballot Democrats mostly kept pace with Biden, Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-North Las Vegas) slight underperformance in the chunk of NV-04 that reaches into Lyon is comparable to Patricia Ackerman’s underperformance in the chunk of Lyon that lies in NV-02.
Biden 20.74%, Biden’s raw vote was 133.99% of Hillary Clinton’s vote
Trump 76.21%, Trump’s raw vote in 2020 was 123.54% of his 2016 vote
Ackerman 19.36%, Ackerman got 91.62% of Biden’s raw vote
Amodei 75.40%, Amodei got 97.11% of Trump’s raw vote (in 2020)
(NVLeg SD 19 had no Democratic candidate in 2020, and NVLeg AD 33 was unopposed in 2020.)
The last Democratic presidential candidate to win Elko County was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Since then, Elko has become one of the reddest counties in the state. However, Biden did get some good news here: Both his raw vote total and his margin of defeat were slightly better than Clinton’s in 2016.
Though Elko County’s share of college-educated voters is somewhat below the statewide share, the Shoshone-Paiute Duck Valley Indian Reservation does stretch into northwestern Elko County (and includes parts of Humboldt County and Owyhee County, Idaho). As we’ve especially seen in Arizona this year, Native American voters played a critical role in securing victory for Biden across the nation.
Biden 28.72%, Biden got 143.07% of Hillary Clinton’s raw vote
Trump 69.07%, Trump got 131.55% of his 2016 raw vote
Horsford 29.17%, Horsford got 99.41% of Biden’s raw vote
Marchant 67.29%, Marchant got 95.36% of Trump’s raw vote (in 2020)
(NVLeg SD 19 had no Democratic candidate in 2020, and NVLeg AD 36 was unopposed in 2020.)
Finally, we have perhaps the most famous of Nevada’s rural counties: the Nevada Test Site, Yucca Mountain, the Clown Motel and other allegedly haunted destinations featured on Ghost Adventures, and the brothel that “Hollywood Madam” turned Pahrump area resident Heidi Fleiss tried to take over are all here, and Area 51 is just across the Lincoln County line. It’s wild to think that even as President Jimmy Carter lost Nevada by 4.36% in 1976, he won Nye County by a larger margin than Clark!
Of course, 1976 was also the last time any Democratic presidential candidate won Nye County, though President Bill Clinton managed to get within single digits in 1992 and 1996 while Ross Perot was scoring unusually high support for a third-party nominee. This time around, Joe Biden improved upon Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in both raw vote and percent margin. And this time, like the Clark County part of NV-04, Horsford held onto more Biden voters in Nye than Jim Marchant did with Trump voters.
Finally, some closing thoughts on “Hindsight 2020”
As we assess the overall rural landscape, a few things become clear. First, not all of these counties were always this lopsidedly Republican. Second, even though Trump added to his vote totals in all these counties, Biden also added to his vote totals. Third, despite their many challenges, rural Democrats actually succeeded in narrowing Trump’s margins, and these seemingly small gains ended up playing a critical role in keeping Nevada in the blue column due to Biden’s underperformance in Clark County.
As much as some national media pundits love to oversimplify American elections into some kind of epic war between Whole Foods shopping cosmopolitan liberals versus Cracker Barrel dining salt-of-the-earth conservatives, the fact of the matter is that our voters are not that monolithic. Time and time again, we Nevadans try to explain this to the outside pundits. Whether it’s distant rural communities who continue to struggle with issues like health care and broadband internet availability, or diverse urban communities who also continue to struggle with issues like health care and broadband internet availability, voters continue to search for solutions and shrug off platitudes that hold no meaning in their everyday lives.
As we wrap up this series and wrap up this entire psychodrama of a year, it’s important to remember who and what truly matters. Spoiler alert: It’s not super insider-y caucus events that now feel like a truly bygone era, and it’s certainly not meaningless debates over activists’ verbiage. In order to turn this hindsight from the recent past into useful wisdom for the future, folks need to actually learn some lessons on who our voters are and what they actually care about.