Nevada's main significance in the election process is it is one of a few early States. It moved to the front relatively recently primarily thanks the work of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Over the years, it has moved back and forth between primaries and caucuses. 2016 will be its third caucus in a row.
A caucus differs from a primary in that people have to spend hours in a room to determine the delegates rather than simply cast a vote and leave. Unlike the Iowa Caucus, the Nevada Caucus takes place during the day rather than in the evening. It also lasts many more hours. As a result, you have to be pretty dedicated to participate in such a long event, especially if it is a work day for you. Consequently, results are usually the result of very low numbers of people. Typically, a Caucus has about 50,000-60,000 participants total, and most of those on the Republican side. In 2008, during the highly competitive Obama Clinton fight, Democrats combined turned out just over 10,000 participants. Compare this to over 1 million who vote in the general election.
Many voters need to get time off from work to participate, so participation depends on whether your employer favors such participation. Workers in Las Vegas are permitted to caucus at work rather then in their home districts. Also, there is no private ballots, so you may be voting with your coworkers, your Union representative, and your boss present - all of them seeing who you support. As a result, voters may be pressured to vote differently than they might in a private ballot.
All of this means that Nevada is not really a good sampling of a candidate's popularity. It is a test of a campaign's organizational skills and ability to get out the vote. Larger establishment campaigns with high levels of funding and organization tend to thrive in this environment.
The state is the first with a significant Hispanic population, but since the caucus is not really a good measure of voter sentiment, I'm not sure how predictive any result really is for the Hispanic vote nationally.
I could only find results for the last two elections:
- 2012 – Mitt Romney (50.02%), Newt Gingrich (21.10%), Ron Paul (18.73%), Rick Santorum (9.94%)
- 2008 – Mitt Romney (51.1%), Ron Paul (13.73%), John McCain (12.75%), Mike Huckabee (8.16%), Fred Thompson (7.94%), Rudy Giuliani (4.31%), Duncan Hunter (2.01%)
- 2012 – Barack Obama, (98.3%), Uncommitted (0.7%)
- 2008 – Hillary Clinton (50.8%), Barack Obama (45.1%)
Right now polling shows Trump with about 1/3 of the vote, Cruz with around 20% and the others back between 10-15%. That said, there have been far fewer polls in the State and most are now quite dated. So polling results are of limited use. Further this Caucus favors well funded organization. Cruz was able to out organize everyone else to win the Iowa Caucus. Trump, however, will not likely be out maneuvered again. As a Las Vegas Casino owner, he will likely be able to organize and turn out larger numbers. Expect Trump and Cruz both to do better than the polling suggests. Bush's money might help him here in the race for third place. But expect everyone else in the pack to lag behind.
Among the Democrats, Clinton and Sanders are polling at about dead even, with both close to 50%. Sanders tends to have the edge in dedicated volunteers, but I really think Clinton's organization and money will carry the day. Union support tends to help here among Democrats which should also benefit Clinton. I predict a fairly comfortable Clinton victory, though closer than in South Carolina.
Look for Clinton and Trump to win in Nevada, though it will mean relatively little going into Super Tuesday