Nevada’s Polling Contradiction

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 19, 2018 — A new survey was just released covering the two Nevada statewide campaigns, and the results are curious.

Gravis Marketing tested the Silver State electorate (Sept. 11-12; 700 likely Nevada voters) and finds consistency with other polling in one race but projects a major change in the other.

Nevada Senate candidate, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) and Sen. Dean Heller (R)

Nevada Senate candidate, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D), and Sen. Dean Heller (R)

According to Gravis, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) holds a 47-45 percent lead over Sen. Dean Heller (R) in the US Senate campaign. Such a conclusion is well within the range of other published data.

Just as Gravis was beginning their survey process, Suffolk University was ending theirs (Sept. 5-10; 500 likely Nevada voters), and they saw Rep. Rosen holding a similarly close 42-41 percent edge. Suffolk also surveyed in late July (July 24-29; 500 likely Nevada voters) and found Sen. Heller clinging to a one-point 41-40 percent lead. All of these consistent findings suggest the Senate race has been, and continues to be, a pure toss-up.

But the same Gravis polling sample produced a radically different conclusion for the open governor’s race. All other previous data found Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) locked in a close battle. The same two previous polls cited above for the Senate race, Suffolk University’s Sept. 5-10 survey and their July 24-29 study, actually found Sisolak ahead only 37-35 percent in the former, while Laxalt actually led 42-41 percent in the earlier poll.

The Laxalt campaign experienced some adversity in mid-August when outgoing GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval said he would not endorse Laxalt as his successor, largely over the latter man’s refusal to promise to continue the governor’s legacy education program and several other bedrock issues. The story is significant and could account for some slippage in Laxalt’s polling standing.

Yet, the new Gravis margin is far greater than an endorsement flap from a month ago can explain. From the sample that produced a two-point Democratic lead in the Senate campaign, Gravis sees the governor’s race lurching to a 50-38 percent split in Sisolak’s favor.

The Gravis polling sample is slightly skewed toward the Democrats, which could explain some of the difference. While the sampling universe reveals a partisan division of 39 percent Democrat, 32 percent Republican, and 29 percent Independent/Other, the actual voter registration totals find that Democrats and Independents were oversampled by 1.6 and 1.3 percent respectively, while Republicans were under-represented by a factor of 1.8 percent. Therefore, the swing away from the Republican sample and toward the other two tested partisan cells could be as much as a net five percentage points.

Though this discrepancy doesn’t entirely explain the wide gap between Gravis and the other pollsters, the skew is worth noting.

Looking at the overall Nevada picture that Gravis’ results produce for the Senate and governor’s races suggest that Sen. Heller is in better position than the numbers at first glance might yield.

Though trailing his Democratic opponent, Sen. Heller is leading his GOP gubernatorial teammate by seven points in the support column. Considering the apparent slight sample skew that favors the Democrats, the polling figures tell us that the Senate race continues as a virtual dead heat that either candidate can win.

As has been the case since its beginning, we can expect the Nevada Senate contest to yield more polling that forecasts a similar toss-up result. For the governor’s race, more data is needed to ascertain the probable candidate standing.

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