Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is crushing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) by 16 points in the next nominating state of Nevada.
That’s according to the last major public survey of Nevada voters, a CNN/ORC poll.
Only problem? It was conducted four months ago.
That was long before Sanders began to pick up steam in Iowa, where he narrowly lost to Clinton in the state’s caucuses. And it was long before the senator racked up a 22-point victory over the former secretary of state in New Hampshire.
Sometimes daily, a flood of new polls emerged from those first two states. But with about a week to go before the crucial Nevada caucuses — seen by some Clinton allies as the first of her “firewall” states that could stop Sanders’ surge — there’s almost no recent public information gauging how the last four months of the race have affected Nevada voters.
There’s a reason for that: Nevada has become an incredibly difficult to poll.
Public polls of the 2008 presidential election missed the mark, when they predicted that Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) would prevail over eventual President Barack Obama. They also incorrectly prejudged the 2010 Senate election, forecasting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) would lose to insurgent Tea Party challenger Sharon Angle.
Voter transience, unusual working schedules, and voter-response habits in the state make it difficult to poll, analysts say. Pollsters have found that different groups of voters in the state, such as Latinos, are less responsive to initial polling calls, which skewed the 2010 results.
Tom Jensen, the director of the Public Policy Polling firm, told Business Insider that Nevada is probably “the hardest state to poll.”
“People have unusual work schedules, there’s a lot of turnover in the population,” Jensen said. “That led to polls being way off there in both the 2008 and 2010 general elections.”
Jensen said polling caucus-goers is so costly and tedious, PPP wouldn’t conduct any surveys unless the organisation was commissioned to do so.
“Caucuses are also always going to be both more expensive and more difficult to poll because the electorate is so small and unpredictable,” Jensen said. “You have to call a lot more people to get a decent sample size and that drives your costs up. So once you get beyond Iowa, I just don’t think you’re going to see a lot of investment in public polling in caucuses.”
Princeton University professor and polling expert Sam Wang said that there’s little financial incentive for public pollsters to survey a state like Nevada because the short time between nominating states can render results incorrect very quickly.
“Partly it’s the short time scale between primaries,” Wang said when asked why Nevada is polled so infrequently.
Nevada’s voter-mobility issue isn’t just a problem for pollsters — even the campaigns have a hard time keeping tabs on voters.
The Clinton campaign’s Nevada operation told Business Insider late last year that its “voter file” — or list of information collected by the national or state party to target supporters — was out of date due to the transient nature of the population.
Campaign strategists pointed out that Nevada is home to the fewest people born in state. The state’s residents are more mobile — and thus more difficult to canvas.
“Nevada has notoriously bad lists, and it’s a fairly transient state,” Jorge Neri, the Clinton campaign’s Nevada organising director, told Business Insider.
He added: “So we’re making sure that we’re laying that foundation to be successful for the caucus and we’re cleaning our lists and making sure we’re talking to the right voters.”
Prominent Nevada Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez shared a similar sentiment. He told Business Insider that voter mobility is a major problem that can prove troublesome for campaigns that don’t do the proper amount of organizational legwork.
“The problem is not the file as much as the transient nature of people in Nevada. This makes it harder to assess performance from previous elections to help guide you for the current election,” Ramirez said.
He added: “This can pose a huge problem for campaigns who don’t understand Nevada and caucus mobilization.”
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