The 2020 Democratic Primary race continues, and the Nevada caucuses are up next. Like Iowa, Nevada seems doomed to deal with technical issues, so it could take a while for the state to declare a winner. Fortunately, however, the Nevada caucus begins during the day on Saturday, so it shouldn’t keep people up until three in the morning.
Although Nevada isn’t traditionally viewed as one of the key early states, it still comes before Super Tuesday, so it’s still important for candidates to focus on it. And with no clear second-place candidate behind Bernie Sanders, Nevada has become an important battleground for moderates.
Back in 2016, Hillary Clinton bested Sanders by roughly five percent of the caucus tally. It was close for the Vermont Senator, but he could never quite recapture the magic that propelled him to a win in New Hampshire. This year, however, things look a lot better for Sanders.
Again, it’s important to remember that Nevada is a caucus state. Caucusgoers align with their first choices, and if that candidate fails to meet the 15 percent viability threshold, then they’ll be forced to re-align with someone else. That gave Pete Buttigieg an edge back in Iowa, as he earned some support from those who had backed non-viable moderate candidates in the first round.
The nature of caucuses adds uncertainty to the betting process, as polls do not typically measure a voter’s second-choice candidate. Caucus polls are clearest when a candidate has enough of a lead to prevent realignment from having much of an effect. That wasn’t the case in Iowa, so what do the polls say this time around?
Pollsters don’t survey Nevada as heavily as they survey other states. As a result, the RealClearPolitics polling average relies on just a pair of half-week old polls. These numbers show Sanders as a heavy favorite, but more importantly, they show four candidates below the viability threshold: Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, and Amy Klobuchar. One poll even has Joe Biden under 15 percent! Also, it’s worth noting that Michael Bloomberg isn’t included in the polling average because he won’t be on the ballot in Nevada.
Given Sanders’ strong lead, it’s likely that only three or four candidates can be viable behind him. We do know that Sanders didn’t attract much support from non-viable candidates in Iowa, so don’t expect him to finish high above his polling average. Instead, we’ll have to guess which candidates won’t be viable — and whose campaigns their backers will end up supporting.
To do so, let’s look at Wednesday night’s debate. The gloves finally came off for most of the candidates as the moderators hit everyone — including new guest Bloomberg — with tough questions. Elizabeth Warren had a much-needed strong performance, although I’m unsure if she did enough to distance herself from other candidates. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg seemed focused on fighting which each other, which may reduce the number of their supporters who move over to the other’s corner. Biden and Sanders did enough to stay where they are, but they didn’t do a lot to earn new support.
FiveThirtyEight’s odds also show a clear lead for Sanders, and they put him ahead of several non-viable candidates.
Unfortunately for the Vermont Senator, FiveThirtyEight doesn’t have him breaking 30 percent support. That’s concerning, as it could mean he’ll have a smaller lead than some expect before the re-alignment phase. Worse, FiveThirtyEight does include Mayor Bloomberg, which may distort the numbers in Sanders’ favor, as moderate candidates may be closer to viability than they appear.
One poll counted by FiveThirtyEight’s model, based on surveys conducted between Feb. 13 and Feb. 15, even shows Tom Steyer in the lead — and Sanders in fourth place.
As of publication, the sportsbooks expect a conclusive victory for Sanders. Let’s take a look at PointsBet’s odds for Nevada:
Yes, you read that correctly: Tulsi Gabbard has a worse shot than someone not on the ballot. For me, the biggest takeaway is how unprofitable the odds for Sanders are. Sure, he’s a favorite, but does he have an 89.29 percent chance of winning, which is what those odds are based on? Absolutely not. FiveThirtyEight gives him a 75 percent chance to win the most votes. They give Biden an 11 percent chance, while Warren and Buttigieg both receive five-percent chances.
I wouldn’t bet on those odds, but if you’re looking for a (relatively) low-risk bet with few rewards, throw your money on him. If you’re going to do that, though, consider throwing a buck or two on Biden or Warren. They’re good high-reward options if Sanders can’t earn a large enough majority before re-alignment to win outright.