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Poll Vault: What Do These Numbers Really Mean?

Earlier today, Suffolk University and the Reno Gazette-Journal released a new poll with rough numbers for Nevada Republicans. On top of that, a few national pollsters have dropped new surveys showing a drop in (already low) support for President Donald Trump. So what exactly are the polls showing, and where might this midterm election be heading in these final weeks of the campaign?

Let’s dive into these poll numbers to see what’s going on.

First off, Nevada!
Photo by Andrew Davey

Let’s begin here at home. Indeed, Suffolk and the RGJ have gifted us with a new poll today. Their previous survey (released on July 31) showed the slightest of edges for U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), as in about 1% for each of them in their respective races. But this time, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) have pulled ahead of their respective Republican rivals, Rosen by less than 1% (42-41%) and Sisolak by about 2% (37-35% with a strangely high 15% undecided).

In recent cycles Suffolk has developed a decent track record here in Nevada, particularly since it was the only public pollster to show then Senator Harry Reid (D) ahead among the final nine public polls to be released in 2010. Still, their numbers so far have been slightly better for Heller and the Republicans than the overall average. For Suffolk to show Heller slipping further is anything but a positive development with less than eight weeks left in this race.

Why is Dean Heller’s race such a big deal nationally?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier this month, jaws dropped throughout the D.C. Beltway when The Washington Post and ABC News dropped their most recent poll showing Trump sinking to a 36% approval rating (with 60% disapproving of Trump) and Democrats soaring to 52-38% lead in the generic Congressional ballot. Around the same time, Suffolk’s last national poll for USA Today showed Trump with a 40-56% upside-down approval rating and a 50-39% Democratic lead in the generic Congressional ballot. Since then, two more national polls have dropped with similar drops for Trump: CNN with his score underwater at a similar 36-58% spread, and Quinnipiac with his score slipping to a 38-54% spread. If we zoom out to the larger polling average, the picture isn’t much prettier for the White House. By extension, this unpopular White House is likely playing a key role in dimming Republicans’ hopes of holding onto the U.S. House after year’s end.

In addition, Trump’s political woes have provided a small opening for Democrats to potentially win a majority in the Senate. If you’ve been wondering why national groups are flooding our airwaves here in Nevada, it’s because this is one of four potential pick-up opportunities for Democrats (along with Arizona, Tennessee, and Texas). And though Republicans’ offensive targets have narrowed over the course of this cycle, there are enough red state Democratic seats (most notably West Virginia, Florida, and North Dakota) in play that our state may end up deciding who gets to be Senate Majority Leader next year.

Oh, and one more thing about Laxalt (and Sandoval, and Trump)
Photo by Andrew Davey

As for Laxalt and the Gubernatorial election, Nevada is one of several states featuring competitive statehouse races. And since Democrats already control both houses of the Legislature (and are virtual locks to keep both chambers), the next Governor will play a key role in either working with the Legislature to enact a more progressive agenda or forming the bulwark against “Nevadafornia”. In the next four years, the new Governor will likely make big decisions everything from universal health care to gun violence prevention and redistricting that will set the tone (and in the latter case, the boundaries) for the decade ahead.

Though state-level races have traditionally been seen as separate from federal elections that are influenced by the President and one’s popularity (or lack thereof), this year and this state may be different. As we discussed in these pages yesterday, outgoing Governor Brian Sandoval (R) has made no secret of his displeasure with Adam Laxalt spurning his legacy. Meanwhile, Laxalt has latched onto Trump (and Trumpism) in hopes that the midterm electorate will not only be smaller than that of Presidential years, but also more Republican (and at that, more Trumpublican than Sandovalista).

And yet, here’s the big catch: Today’s Suffolk poll has Trump with a 46-50% approval rating among likely voters here in Nevada, which is somewhat better than the 43-53% spread that Public Policy Polling found late last month. Still, both recent surveys suggest that even this smaller pool of likely midterm voters are less enamored with Trump than Heller and Laxalt seem to think they are. If this dynamic continues to hold up (or rather, drag down), Trump’s next campaign trip to Nevada may end up hurting his candidates more than it helps.

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