Just six of the United States’ 538 electoral college votes will come from the western state of Nevada, a state that has historically demonstrated an aptitude in choosing the country’s leader. That was until the 2016 election when Nevada’s electoral college went blue, and the outcome as we now know went remarkably red. Admittedly, Nevada has a complicated history when it comes to political identity. As the 36th state to join the union, Nevada leveraged Abraham Lincoln’s re-election, helping solidify the nation’s abolition movement. The heroic ideal of Nevada’s statehood ending slavery is a distant memory in the tension of today’s political turmoil, however, and the modern reality of Nevada is that the state is just as internally divided as the rest of the country.
Any native Nevadan will make clear there is more to the state than the complex reputation of Las Vegas. The city is admittedly a large part of the state’s identity, accounting for 75% of the state’s overall population, but in itself occupies an exceptionally small percentage of the state’s overall land mass. Most of Nevada is rural desert, with a population scattered throughout 4 congressional districts. The second congressional district comprises a large majority of northern Nevada, while the fourth accounts for the lower half of the state. The first district is entirely the city of Las Vegas, and the third district consists of its southernmost tip.
Needless to say, each of these districts represent very different ways of life. A casino worker in Vegas faces distinct challenges to an agricultural worker in Lyon County and vice versa. Opposing circumstances have resulted in conflicting politics, as is to be expected when accounting for such a vast area of land. As of the 2018 midterm elections, three out of the four congressional representatives elected are democratic, as are Nevada’s two senators, and the state’s governor Steve Sisolak. The current representation is hardly an indication of the popular vote results in 2016’s presidential election. Though technically the 6 electoral college votes went to Hillary Clinton, only two of the four districts voted for her by popular count, the main district of course being Las Vegas.
The obvious tension between Nevada’s counties has only worsened under the pressure of the USA’s current reality. Anti-shutdown demonstrations erupted throughout the state in early spring protesting Nevada’s quickly deteriorating economy. Las Vegas has since reopened casinos in efforts of economic survival, but recent health reports have stated the city’s hospitals to be at 80% capacity with no sign of slowing down. Much like everyone right now, Nevada is in a complicated bind: with more than a quarter of the state’s overall employment coming from gaming, keeping the casinos closed proved catastrophic in general revenue.
Beyond the most obvious health and economic concerns of the moment, Nevada among the rest of the nation is having a crucial conversation regarding race. The 5 largest ethnic groups in Nevada are White (Non-Hispanic) (48.4%), White (Hispanic) (15%), Some Other Race (Hispanic) (11.4%), Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) (8.78%), and Asian (Non-Hispanic) (8.06%). Small communities in eastern Nevada have adopted conservative ideals against potential Black Lives Matter violence, suggesting forms of vigilante justice. 37% of Nevada residents currently own firearms – if there is any reputation that this state confirms it is that of the wild west.
In early August Nevada lawmakers entered into a Special Legislative Session in the state’s capital Carson City. The agenda aimed to discuss the impending reality in a post-pandemic world all of which included: mail-in ballot expansion; police reform; federally-funded unemployment benefits. Nevada will be one of the many states granting mail-in ballot options for the presidential election this November. Earlier this March in the thick of the United States’ primary season the state demonstrated its overwhelming support for Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders. That support largely came from one of the most infamous unions in the nation: the Nevada Culinary Union. The organization currently has more than 60,000 members and counting, consisting largely of Nevada’s hispanic population who hold casino working jobs.
As of a recent report in late June, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is leading the polls in Nevada with a margin of 7% points ahead of Donald Trump. Despite its appearance as a liberal leaning state, there is a deeply conservative history and frustration that accounts for a large majority of rural Nevada, which is an undeniable component of importance come Nov 3rd, one that Trump is looking to fire up, just as Biden’s strategy is to hold them out an olive branch. Their level of disenfranchised anger may be key to which color the state ends up landing.
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Kassidy Freitas in Nevada
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