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Primary Election Season: Nevada in Depth

FRIDAY, FEB 21, 2020

After the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary comes the Nevada Caucus, which takes place on Saturday. With the herd of Democratic Party presidential contenders down to eight, this first contest in a more diverse state in a different region of the country brings new voters into the mix.

In 2008, the Nevada Democratic Party moved the caucus earlier in the calendar, which put the Western state in a key spot of the Democratic Presidential Primary season. A closer look at the state’s demographics, industries and voting patterns reveals more about the “Bellwether of the West.”

This Social Explorer analysis uses data from the 2010 Census, the 2014-2018 American Community Survey, 2017 County Business Patterns, and 2008 and 2016 Presidential Elections.

Voting History:

Looking to the General Election, Nevada contributes six of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs (the same number as Iowa). The following Social Explorer maps, based on data from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, show the voting trends in Nevada for recent general elections.

In 2008, Nevada voted 55.2 percent for Obama and 42.7 percent for McCain—a victory of 12.5 points. In 2016, Clinton beat Trump by a much smaller margin of 2.4 percent (47.9 percent to 45.5 percent). Explore the maps to see the voting patterns county by county.

Population & Land:

For both elections, the major city areas of Reno, Henderson and Las Vegas leaned more Democrat. As the following population density map shows, these are also the most populated areas of the state.

With a combined population of 1,160,616, the three cities make up nearly 40 percent of Nevada's total population of 2,922,849, according to data from the 2014-2018 American Community Survey.

While Nevada and Iowa are similar in population size, Nevada is far more spread out, giving candidates more land to traverse as they campaign. With a land area of 109,780.24 square miles, the state is twice the size of Iowa (55,854.03 square miles) and nearly 13 times the size of New Hampshire (8,953.48 square miles).

State Demographics:

To learn more about the Nevada, we examined demographics using the 2014-2018 American Community Survey available on

  • Nevada’s population is 66.2 percent white, making it the first primary contest state that is less white than the nation as whole (72.8 percent white).
  • The state is 8.9 percent black or African-American, and while still less than the rate for the entire US (12.7 percent) it is much closer than Iowa or New Hampshire.
  • Nevada’s Hispanic population is 28.5 percent, more than 10 points higher than the rate for the country as a whole (17.8 percent), which has inspired candidates to focus on this distinction in their efforts to court the Latino vote.
  • Of the population over five years old, 21.3 percent speak Spanish (notably higher than the 13.3 percent rate for the US as a whole), so voters will also encounter more Spanish language campaign signs and appeals.
  • The state's median age of 37.9 years old is exactly the same as the national median age of 37.9 years old.
  • Nevada’s high school graduation rate is slightly less than the US as a whole (86.3 percent of adults 25 years old or over compared to 87.7 percent), while the rate of Nevadans with college diplomas lags more (24.3 percent compared to 31.5 percent).
  • Nevada's median income of $57,598 is 4.5 percent lower than the nation's median income ($60,293).
  • Ever since Nevada reduced the residency requirement for divorce to just six weeks back in the 1930s, the state has become a destination for those looking to split from their spouses. While many of these divorces may not be captured by Census data because the residency requirement is so short, the state does have a higher than typical divorce rate of 14.1 percent (instead of 10.9 percent for the whole US).

Nevada Industries:

In Las Vegas and beyond, Nevada is known for gambling, entertainment and recreation, and the top industries attract attention from presidential candidates. One of the most powerful organizations in Nevada politics is the Culinary Workers Union, which represents hospitality workers across the state ranging from guest room attendants to porters to food servers to cooks. With 60,000 members and a history of political engagement, the union has been a coveted endorsement for decades.

A look at 2017 County Business Pattern shows the scale of these industries in the Nevada workforce. Amusement, Gambling and Recreation industries employ 23,757 people with an average wage of $23,230 and an annual payroll totaling $551,883,000. Nevada’s casinos may be the most iconic, but the hotels and restaurants employ far more people. Accommodation and Food Services employs 319,214 people with an average wage of $29,739 and an annual payroll totaling $9,493,229,000.

Though the Culinary Workers Union did not endorse anyone in the 2020 primary, it is mobilizing members to defeat Trump, who has a reputation for exploiting hospitality workers, especially undocumented employees.

Explore the detailed County Business Pattern data maps and reports to learn more about these different sectors.

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