2020 Nevada Caucuses: Final Polling Update

At 10 am Nevada time (1 pm EST) on February 22, 2020, Nevadans who did not already vote between February 15 and 18 by submitting a ranking of their three top choices to be the 2020 Democratic nominee will gather in nearly 2,100 meeting places to support their preferred candidate(s). While about 84,000 Nevadans caucused for Democrats in total in 2016, the number of Nevadans who voted early in 2020 is estimated to be at least 70,000.

This post presents four variations on my final pre-Caucuses WAPA, calculated using the four different timeframes detailed below. To learn how I calculate candidate WAPA (weighted-adjusted polling averages), please see here. Polls conducted partially or entirely after the Iowa Caucuses, but before the New Hampshire Primary, are weighted up to 1.33 to 2.00 times higher than polls conducted before the Iowa Caucuses. Polls conducted partially or entirely after the New Hampshire Primary are weighted 2.33 to 3.00 times higher than polls conducted before the New Hampshire Primary.

I have never been to Nevada, so here is the February 2020 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2020 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Feb 2020 lighthouse


As of midnight EST on February 22, 2020, here is the breakdown of publicly-available Nevada Caucuses polls.

  • 22 conducted since January 1, 2019
  • 19 conducted since the 1st Democratic debate on June 26, 2019
  • 10 conducted since the 5th Democratic debate on November 19, 2019
  • 7 conducted since the 7th Democratic debate on January 14, 2020

First, however, here are some words of caution.

1. Very few high-quality polls

Only 22 polls of the Nevada Caucuses have been conducted since January 1, 2019, considerably fewer than the 59 polls of the Iowa Caucuses and the 72 polls of the New Hampshire Primary conducted over the same period of time. Overall, the 15 pollsters operating in Nevada, as a group, compare favorably to the 19 pollsters who operated in Iowa and the 21 who operated in New Hampshire: all three sets of pollsters averaged a B/B-, using FiveThirtyEight.com pollster ratings. However, only one of the seven polls conducted since the January 14, 2020 Democratic debate was conducted by a pollster who do have either a B/C (three) or a C+ (three) rating: an Emerson College poll (A-) conducted February 19-20, 2020. This poll is weighted 2.57; no other poll is weighted higher than 1.76.

The combination of many fewer polls, a dearth of recent high-quality polls and the fact polling in Nevada is extremely challenging in the best of circumstances makes these final Nevada Caucuses WAPA even more “wobbly” than those for the unpredictable Iowa Caucuses.

2. Reporting snafus 2.0?

Recall that in a caucus setting, voters literally declare their preferences in a public setting. If, after an initial tabulation, a candidate does not have the support of at least 15% of that site’s caucus attendees, supporters of that candidate either join a group that does (i.e., is “viable”), the “uncommitted” group or call it a day. This realigning continues until only viable candidates remain, at which time a complex formula is used to calculate “state delegate equivalents,” or SDEs. Prior to 2020, only the percentage of SDEs won were reported.

However, as was the case in Iowa, this year the Nevada Democratic Party plans to report three sets of results:

  • The initial statewide tally for each candidate
  • The post-viability tally for each candidate
  • SDE’s for each candidate

Having to report all three tallies in Iowa proved so difficult it ultimately cost the state’s Democratic Party Chair, Troy Price, his job. The Nevada Democratic Party has reassured us it is doing everything it can to report the results of its caucuses in a timely manner, though accuracy should always be prioritized over speed. There is a vast difference between conducting an election and reporting the results of that election; the former should take precedence over the latter, whatever the discomfiture level of journalists waiting to report results.

With those two caveats, Table 1 presents the final pre-Caucuses WAPA for the eight remaining candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination; even though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not actively campaigning in Nevada, he is included as Nevadans could theoretically caucus for him.

Table 1: Final Nevada Caucuses WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate All Polls Since 1st Debate Since 5th Debate Since 7th Debate
Sanders 24.6 24.8 26.4 27.8
Biden 19.6 19.0 16.8 15.5
Warren 13.4 13.4 11.4 11.2
Buttigieg 10.9 11.0 12.6 13.7
Steyer 9.8 9.8 12.2 12.9
Klobuchar 6.5 6.3 8.3 9.4
Gabbard 1.4 1.3 1.5 1.5
Bloomberg 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.0
DK/Other 13.7 14.4 10.6 7.9

United States Senator (“Senator”) from Vermont Bernie Sanders would appear to have a significant edge—and momentum—heading into the final day of caucusing in Nevada. Increasingly falling behind Sanders are five candidates bunched relatively close together: former Vice President Joe Biden; Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren; former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. However, while Buttigieg, Steyer and Klobuchar appear to have some momentum heading into Saturday, Biden and Warren are fading somewhat, though we have no idea how Warren’s dominant February 19 debate performance will impact her final results. After a similarly-strong performance, Klobuchar outperformed her final New Hampshire WAPA by an average of 11.5 percentage points (“points”); were Warren to jump even one-third that amount—around four points—she could easily finish in 2nd place.

The bottom line.

As with the earlier Iowa Caucuses, anybody who thinks they know what will happen in the 2020 Nevada Democratic Caucuses has absolutely no idea what will happen in the 2020 Nevada Democratic Caucuses. Polling is very difficult to do in a multi-candidate race, with caucuses adding the additional wrinkle of unknowable “backup” choices or even who will participate. Combine this with a noticeable lack of recent high-quality polling, and we have something more akin to a gut-level hunch than a scientific projection.

It may very well be Sanders is the heavy favorite to win the Nevada Caucuses with literally every other candidate struggling to reach the 15% viability threshold, but I would not bet anything remotely of value on it.

We shall see.

Until next time…

Published by

Matt Berger

I am a data geek, writer, investigator and film noir devotee with academic training in political science (Yale BA, Harvard MA), biostatistics (Boston University SPH MA) and epidemiology (Boston University SPH PhD). In January 2021, I finished writing Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History...and My Own for which I seek literary representation and a publisher. In Chapter 6: So...What Is Film Noir, Again?, I analyze my film noir database, which contains 4,825 titles. My musical holy trinity is Genesis, Miles Davis and Stan Ridgway. I am a liberal Democrat who understands a thriving democracy requires at least two mature political parties. I grew up just outside Philadelphia, and I live just outside Boston, where my wife and daughters keep me happy, sane and grounded. Please ask me anything else you want to know.

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