There is little polling in advance of tonight’s Nevada caucuses, but that which exists predict another Trump blowout. There’s no reason not to believe this, as Nevada’s GOP electorate has shown a strong anti-elite strain over the last few years (see Sharon Angle). It is also a state with many fewer very conservative evangelicals than elsewhere, suggesting that Cruz will be hard pressed to exceed his 22 percent share of the South Carolina vote, Nevertheless, there are no polls taken since South Carolina, and neither available poll provides enough cross-tabulations to let me feel comfortable in delivering precise margins for tonight’s contest.
Averaging the two polls taken between New Hampshire and South Carolina gives us the following: Trump 42, Cruz 20, Rubio 19, Kasich 7, Carson 6, Bush 3. Bush’s departure will thus have only a marginal effect on tonight’s outcome.
Rubio, Cruz, and Trump spent yesterday in NV, and all three are having some rallies today. Rubio received the endorsement of Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, both of whose electoral bases are in the Reno-Sparks area (Washoe County). Washoe cast about 20 percent of the vote in the 2012 GOP caucus, and other Lake Tahoe counties in the Amodei-Heller CD cast about 15 percent of the vote. Over half of the state’s votes, however, are cast in Las Vegas (Clark County), where Rubio and Cruz held morning rallies today. (Trump was there last night.)
Two factors that might keep the Trump vote down slightly: unlike NH and SC, the NV caucus is open only to registered Republicans. And unlike IA, you cannot re-register at the caucus: the registration deadline was February 13.
Nevada awards thirty delegates according to the statewide preference ballot. There is a low floor for getting a delegate (3.33% = 1 delegate), so Trump will not gain a significant delegate advantage regardless of his margin of victory.
My best guess is that Trump will win with between 35-40 percent. Rubio will finish second with 20-28 percent, followed by Cruz at 18-21 percent. Kasich, Carson, and others will round out the field with 15-20 percent of the vote between them. I’d be surprised if Rubio got to within ten points of Trump, and if Cruz bests Rubio for second.
The Silver State is thus merely the calm before the GOP storm that starts with Thursday night’s debate and will roar through the nation next Tuesday.