The Democrats’ Nevada Problem
Combining the Democrats’ Hispanic Voter and Working Class Voter Problems
On one level, it might seem odd that there should be a Democratic Nevada problem. Nevada is the most rapidly-diversifying state in the country—it recently became majority-minority—and should continue to be so in the future. All else equal, that should favor the Democrats and it is true that Democrats have carried the state in the last four Presidential election and currently hold the governorship and both US Senate seats.
But hidden in these facts are some troubling signs. Despite rapid diversification, the Democratic margin in Presidential elections from 2008 to 2016 declined sharply from 12.5 to 2.4 points. And in 2020, as the Democrats gained ground in the country as a whole, the Democratic margin in Nevada went from 2.4 points…..to 2.4 points. That means that—again, despite rapid diversification of the electorate—Nevada went from three-tenths of percentage more Democratic than the nation as a whole in 2016 to 2 points more Republican in 2020.
Hmm. Now how did that happen? Start with Nevada’s Hispanic voters, 16 percent of 2020’s voting electorate. According to unpublished States of Change data, the Democratic margin among Hispanics contracted by 8 points between 2016 and 2020 (Catalist data show an even larger 17 point decline). This drop was driven almost entirely by working class Hispanics (81 percent of Nevada’s Hispanic voters). These shifts meant that Hispanics’ contribution to the Democratic margin in Nevada in 2020 actually went down by 2 points.
There was a similar story with black voters, 9 percent of the Nevada electorate, whose Democratic margin dropped by 13 points, again driven almost entirely by working class blacks (77 percent of black voters). On the other side of the ledger, Democrats did better among white college-educated voters and among Asian/other race voters, particularly the college-educated. The net result was the 2020 stasis in Democratic support, despite underlying trends that should have produced a bluer Nevada.
This helps explain why Democratic strategists are so nervous about Catherine Cortez Masto’s Nevada Senate seat in what is shaping up to be a very difficult Democratic year. They definitely are not feeling the wind at their backs in the state. And they cannot afford to lose the seat if they are to have much of prayer of retaining control of the Senate. They fear, rightly, that this is a state where the Democrats’ Hispanic voter and working class voter problems could combine for a disastrous outcome.
Recent Nevada polling does not inspire confidence in Democratic prospects. In Civiqs tracking polling, Biden’s approval rating is worse in the state than in the nation as whole, both overall and among Hispanics in particular. Among working class Hispanics in the state, Biden is actually underwater, with disapproval of his performance exceeding approval.
If the Democrats are, in fact, in worse shape among Nevada Hispanics than among Hispanics overall, that does not bode well for Cortez Masto’s chances. This is especially so since Cortez Masto is not well-defined among the state’s voters (she’s no Harry Reid!). As a recent New York Times article noted: “Ms. Cortez Masto [is] essentially a generic Democrat in a midterm year when being yoked to Mr. Biden is a political hazard.”
The same article noted:
Scars from the coronavirus pandemic are still visible here. Housing prices skyrocketed, with rents rising faster than almost anywhere else in the country. Roughly 10,000 casino workers remain out of work. Gas prices, now more than $5 a gallon, are higher than in every other state except California.
Combine that with the overwhelmingly working class nature of the state, particularly among Hispanics, and you have a recipe for political trouble. This trouble is compounded by the cultural distance that has opened up between the Democratic party—and therefore any “generic Democrat”—and Hispanic voters. David Leonhardt, in a recent piece on Nevada politics, summarized research on Hispanic trends in 2020 by Equis Research as follows:
Many were uncomfortable with some Democrats’ openness to socialism...Many agreed with Trump about the importance of border security. Some thought the Democrats ignored actual Latino concerns (as opposed to political activists’ impression of those concerns).
Above all, many Latinos liked Trump’s emphasis on reopening the economy, Equis found. Asked if they approved of his policy of “living without fear of Covid,” 55 percent of Latinos said yes. Even now, with highly effective vaccines and treatments available, some liberal Democrats continue to favor indefinite Covid restrictions.
No wonder Cortez Masto is desperately trying to define herself in different terms, releasing ads emphasizing themes of family, patriotism, small business and the struggling working class. We shall see if she succeeds but she clearly needs all the help she can get.
In this regard one has to wonder about the recent administration decision rescinding the covid-era Title 42 regulation, which has facilitated turning away migrants at the border. This will predictably lead to a surge at the border with no real plan of how to contain it. All four vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents—Mark Kelly (AZ), Raphael Warnock (GA), Maggie Hassan (NH) and, very definitely, Cortez Masto—have vigorously opposed this move. She pointedly remarked:
This is the wrong way to do this and it will leave the administration unprepared for a surge at the border. We should be working to fix our immigration system by investing in border security and treating immigrant families with dignity. Instead, the administration is acting without a detailed plan.
With friends like these….It would appear that the upper reaches of the Democratic party have still not absorbed the extent of their party’s Hispanic and working class voter problems. Perhaps they are still high on the fumes of rising diversity happy talk. The 2022 election seems likely to bring them back down to earth and the Nevada race could very definitely be part of that reality check.