With Obama’s slight but consistent lead in Nevada and his landslide win in the state in 2008, many may wonder why Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is still putting so much time and effort into this state for only 6 electoral votes. The answer is that while this state may currently appear to be a reliable win for Democrats, the state has not always leaned this way and Romney likely expects a close electoral college contest where a 12 vote swing (+6 for him, -6 for Obama) if he wins Nevada could be decisive.
In fact, Nevada used to be a fairly safe bet for Republicans. In 2000 and 2004 Nevada voted narrowly for George W Bush. With a slight hiccup in 1992 and 1996, Republicans consistently won this state in Presidential elections from 1972 – 1988.
So what has caused this shift and as a result changed Nevada from a solid red state to a hotly contested swing state?
Many attribute this change to Nevada’s quickly growing Hispanic population. Currently, Hispanics make up about 25 percent of the state’s total population. This number has been on the rise in past years as in 2008 Hispanics accounted for 15 percent of the state and in 2004, when George W Bush was elected, Hispanics accounted for 10 percent of the state. This quickly growing group within the state has proved to be active and loyal voters. In 2008, 76 percent of Hispanics in Nevada voted for President Obama, this was a larger proportion than in California, Arizona and Florida.
Another critical aspect to Obama’s win in Nevada in 2008 was his sweep of the two most populous counties in Nevada, Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of Reno/Tahoe). In fact, the President only won a total of three counties in this state. The graphics below clearly demonstrate the concentration of people in these counties in comparison to the square footage of the entire state.
A final reason why a win in Nevada may be extremely important to both candidates is the fact that historically Nevada has voted for the winner of every presidential election since 1912, with the sole exception of 1976. It is clear that both candidates understand that while the number of electoral votes in Nevada may be small, the state’s influence on other states is large in the presidential election. Will this year’s winner in Nevada solidify the state’s evolution from a red state to a blue state or will a Romney win prove that Obama’s victory in 2008 was a small hiccup in a usually red state? This year’s results in Nevada will be crucial for future political analysts studying voting trends in the state.