2016: The GOP’s Four Faces

State of Play: Nevada

Perhaps no state better earns mention as a “state of play”. Nevertheless, Nevada’s caucuses usually are the least reported upon of any of the four carve out states.  That’s likely to change this cycle because Mitt Romney, who received a huge boost in 2008 and 2012 from the state’s very large Mormon population, is not running.  That means the race is wide open, and as the last state to vote before the March 1 Super Tuesday/SEC Primary showdown, the winner is likely to try to ride momentum to victory in the races held just four days later.

This is almost certainly great news for Ted Cruz.  That’s because Nevada’s GOP electorate is the most very conservative secular of any in the nation, and a natural home for Sen. Tea Party (R-Tex).

As the tables below show, 31 percent of Nevada’s caucus goers in 2008 and 2012 were very conservative seculars. That total is surely high because Mormons, who were 25 percent of the GOP caucus electorate in both years, cannot say they are evangelical:  their theology does not permit it. But anecdotal evidence suggests the Tea Party and soft libertarian elements of the party are strong in the Silver State.

Recall that Sharon Angle rode those sentiments to her 2010 primary victory. Moreover, Nevada gave Steve Forbes over 19 percent of the vote in its 1996 primary – which was held after he had dropped out. Forbes won neighboring Arizona when he was actively contesting the race, and there is no reason to believe that his freedom-first style of libertarian conservatism would have been any less popular in the this Rocky Mountain state.  There’s a reason the annual Burning Man outing is held here.

Gallup and Pew data also show that Nevada is a particularly non-religious state.  Nevada tied for seventh in 2011 for the lowest share of adults saying that religion was very important to their lives, according to Gallup.  And Pew data show that 28 percent of Nevadans say they have no religion at all.  That’s the tenth highest share of “religious nones” among the fifty states and D.C. 

These demographic facts could also benefit Donald Trump, who tends to garner support from less religious voters overall.  Trump’s lack of organization, however, could make it difficult for him to win a caucus where voter identification and turnout are at a premium.

All this means that in 2016, it’s unlikely that what happens in Las Vegas will stay there.

The tables below include more detailed demographic breakdowns and facts about the counties.

Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at UnHerd.com, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.

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