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Our Final Forecast For The Nevada Caucuses

In a few short hours, Nevada Democrats will start caucusing, so it’s time for FiveThirtyEight to freeze its forecast to get a final look at where things stand prior to Nevada’s vote. That means no new information will be added and that candidates’ odds won’t update until after the caucus results are available — hopefully tonight, if another Iowa-esque disaster can be avoided.

First, here’s what our model says about the candidates’ chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates overall going into Nevada. Sen. Bernie Sanders enters today as the front-runner, with around a 2 in 5 (39 percent) shot at winning a delegate majority. However, there’s a slightly higher chance — 2 in 5, or 41 percent — that no single candidate wins a majority of pledged delegates by the time primary voting wraps up on June 6.

After that, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are the candidates with the next-best chance of winning a majority, but they’ve each got only about a 1 in 12 shot. (And it’s important to note that we still have very little polling conducted after Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas; if that helped or hurt anyone’s chances — we’re thinking of you, Bloomberg — then it’s not fully reflected in these numbers yet.) Lastly, both former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren each has about a 1 in 100 chance of winning a majority.

But today, of course, is about Nevada specifically, so let’s dig into what our model has to say about the Silver State. The forecast gives Sanders about a 6 in 7 (85 percent) shot at winning the most votes in Nevada — based on the final vote after realignment — making him far and away the favorite to win today’s vote. But as always, we should be prepared for surprises, especially in a caucus state. Nevada is notoriously difficult to poll, and, as mentioned, there just haven’t been as many polls there as there were in Iowa or New Hampshire, especially high-quality polls. So while Sanders is favored, there’s still about a 1 in 7 chance that someone else wins. Maybe it’s Buttigieg, who has about a 1 in 15 (6 percent) chance; or Biden, who has about a 1 in 20 (5 percent) shot; or Warren, whose chances are 1 in 50 (2 percent). We also can’t totally write off billionaire activist Tom Steyer (1 in 100, or 0.6 percent) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (<1 in 100, or 0.5 percent).

In total, seven polls have been conducted of Nevada since the New Hampshire primary,1 but none was entirely conducted after Wednesday night’s debate, so it’s hard to escape that nagging feeling that the picture in Nevada might be fuzzier than we realize. For one thing, the polls disagree on whether Nevada is a close race or whether Sanders has a sizable lead, and we haven’t seen a traditional gold-standard poll of Nevada in more than a month. In fact, only one of the recent polls we do have came from a pollster with a well-established track record.

But here’s what those surveys show, from most recent to oldest:

  • A Feb. 19-21 Atlas Intel poll had the best news for Sanders of any recent Nevada survey, as it found him with an overwhelming 24-point lead over Buttigieg (38 percent to 14 percent). After Buttigieg were Steyer and Biden with 11 percent each, then Warren in third with 9 percent and Klobuchar in fourth with 5 percent. Even once you adjust for Atlas Intel’s Sanders-leaning house effects, Sanders’s support is 35 percent.
  • In a Feb. 19-21 poll, Data for Progress found Sanders comfortably ahead of the rest of the field with 35 percent. This was more than twice Warren’s and Biden’s 16 percent, while Buttigieg was close behind with 15 percent. Klobuchar and Steyer pulled 8 percent each. After accounting for house effects, the results were only slightly different: Sanders was down to 33 percent, Biden up to 17 percent, Warren down to 14 percent and Buttigieg down to 13 percent. It’s worth noting that Data for Progress conducted another Nevada poll Feb. 12-15 that had similar results.
  • Emerson College’s polls usually have been pretty good for Sanders, and the pollster’s final Nevada survey (conducted Feb. 19-20) was no different — it found Sanders in first with 30 percent. The rest of the field was grouped between 10 and 17 percent, with Buttigieg at 17 percent, Biden at 15 percent, Warren at 12 percent, Klobuchar at 11 percent and Steyer at 10 percent. Adjusting for Emerson’s house effect, Sanders still leads, but with 25 percent instead; no other candidate shifted more than 1 point up or down in our model.
  • Breaking with other pollsters, Point Blank Political released a poll that showed Steyer ahead with 19 percent. Following him were Klobuchar (16 percent), Biden (14 percent), Sanders and Buttigieg (13 percent each) and finally Warren (7 percent). This poll, conducted Feb. 13-15, is the one Nevada survey that doesn’t put Sanders in the lead.
  • Finally, WPA Intelligence polled Nevada on Feb. 11-13 on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and AARP Nevada. The results: Sanders 25 percent, Biden 18 percent, Warren 13 percent, Steyer 11 percent, Buttigieg and Klobuchar 10 percent.

It isn’t a poll of Nevada, but we do have one survey from the aftermath of Wednesday night’s debate: a one-day national poll from Morning Consult. The survey found Bloomberg down 3 points compared with the pollster’s pre-debate poll. Of course, Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot in Nevada, but it’s a reminder that things could have shifted on the ground in the state after the debate, and this could have (direct or indirect) effects on the other candidates. Both Sanders (who led overall) and Warren ticked up slightly in the Morning Consult poll, for instance, although neither candidate’s improvement was outside the margin of error.

Bottom line: According to the polls we do have, Sanders is in a pretty solid position to win Nevada. Yet there’s enough uncertainty surrounding the result — particularly as Nevada is a caucus state — to leave the door open for an unexpected outcome. But even if the expected happens and Sanders wins, his margin of victory and who finishes second will also influence each candidate’s odds of winning a majority of pledged delegates in our overall forecast. So no matter what happens today, make sure to join us on our live blog as we monitor each twist and turn in the Silver State.

Footnotes

  1. Although one of them, a Beacon Research poll conducted for Steyer’s campaign, doesn’t figure into our model because it’s an internal poll.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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