For the first time this cycle, a state that isn’t more than 85 percent white will weigh in on who should be the Democratic nominee for president. There are significant demographic differences among Nevada’s four congressional districts, too, which could mean different candidates will win different districts — unlike in Iowa and New Hampshire where the district-level picture didn’t vary much. This is important because 23 of the 36 pledged delegates at stake in Nevada today are actually awarded based on the winner of each congressional district, not who wins statewide.
Our primary model takes this into account, calculating the average forecasted pledged delegates for each candidate in each district. And while we forecast that Sen. Bernie Sanders will win the state so handily that he also carries all four congressional districts, some of the lower-polling candidates are still likely to do better in some corners of the state than in others.
Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, which covers the heart of Las Vegas, is the least white district in Nevada — which also makes it the most racially diverse district to vote in the primary thus far. A plurality (45 percent) of the population here is Latino, while 31 percent are white and 11 percent are black. Given Sanders’s and former Vice President Joe Biden’s strength with Latino voters and black voters, our forecast thinks they will do the best here: Sanders gets 2.7 of the 1st District’s five total delegates in our average model run, while Biden nabs 1.0.
In addition, the 1st District has the lowest median income in the state, and few residents here have a college degree. That probably hurts candidates such as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whose bases include college-educated white voters. We are forecasting all three to get fewer than one delegate in the 1st District.
However, Warren isn’t letting this district go without a fight — she has opened three field offices in the district, tied with Sanders for the most. And while philanthropist Tom Steyer technically has zero field offices in the 1st District, that doesn’t mean his field operation doesn’t have easy access to the area. His 3rd and 4th district field offices are just a few blocks away from the border with the 1st.
The 2nd Congressional District is the only one not to include a portion of metro Las Vegas; it covers the northern half of the state, most notably the Reno area, and it is the most rural district in Nevada. But before you picture a vast desert, consider that it is still about as dense as the most urban congressional districts in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In 2016, this was the only district in Nevada that Sanders carried, which he did by about 9 points. Our model anticipates that he will dominate here again in 2020, winning an average of 3.0 of its six delegates. But we’re also expecting Buttigieg to earn 1.4 delegates here, making it his best district. Buttigieg did well in rural counties in Iowa, and he appears to be courting them in Nevada too. Buttigieg has opened four field offices in the 2nd — his most of any district — and is the only candidate with an office in Fallon, a city of 8,500 on U.S. Route 50.
The 2nd, however, might be Biden’s worst district. He only wins, on average, 0.5 delegates in our forecast. This could be due to the fact that this is the whitest district in Nevada (although there is still a substantial Latino population). Perhaps to offset this, Biden also appears to be putting in a disproportionate amount of effort in the 2nd District: There are two Biden field offices here, while every other district has only one.
The 3rd Congressional District, worth six pledged delegates, covers the southern tip of Nevada, including southern Las Vegas and the booming suburb of Henderson. In this fairly working-class state, the 3rd District qualifies as Nevada’s most affluent and college-educated. That’s good news for the likes of Buttigieg, whom we expect to perform better here than in most other districts, with 1.2 delegates on average. (He and Sanders are the only candidates with more than one field office here.)
Despite voting for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 5 points in 2016, this year the 3rd District is expected to be Sanders’s best district, awarding him 3.1 delegates. No other candidate — including Biden — averages more than one delegate here in our forecast.
Finally, the 4th Congressional District stretches from North Las Vegas to several rural counties upstate. In 2016, this was Clinton’s best district — she defeated Sanders here by more than 17 points. The fact that the 4th District has Nevada’s highest share of black voters, with whom Clinton excelled in 2016, may have contributed to that. And this year, although black voters have warmed to Sanders recently in national polls, most are still behind Biden, helping to explain why our forecast thinks this will be Biden’s best district: He gets 1.1 of the 4th District’s six delegates on average. Once again, Sanders is on track to receive the most delegates from the district, at 3.1.
However, Buttigieg has opened the most field offices of any candidate in the 4th District — three, including one in Pahrump in rural Nye County, where he is the only candidate with a presence. But while he may do well at the district’s rural caucus sites, the bulk of the Democratic vote has historically come from urban Clark County, explaining why he only gets an average of 0.8 delegates here in our forecast.
Got all that? There will be a quiz — it’s called the FiveThirtyEight live blog of the Nevada caucuses, coming to your computer screen this afternoon.
Joshua Darr contributed research.