Should You Believe the Nevada Polls? (Hint: No.)

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 2 2012 10:49 AM

Should You Believe the Nevada Polls? (Hint: No.)

ELKO, Nev. -- James Hohmann has the numbers from two hot new Nevada polls. The Last Vegas Review Journal pegs Romney at 45 percent, trailed by Gingrich at 25 percent, Santorum at 11 percent, and Paul in the rear at 9 percent. Jon Ralston gets the word from Public Policy Polling:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"Romney leads Newt by about 15-20 points. The main suspense may be whether he gets over 50%, he will certainly have a chance. Paul is 3rd and Santorum 4th, both around 15%. The chances of Paul besting Gingrich for 3rd [sic] are pretty minuscule.
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I'm pretty sure that's supposed to read "besting Gingrich for 2nd," and I'm pretty sure it's wrong. Four years ago, the final polling in Nevada -- all available here -- suggested that the candidates would finish like this.

Mitt Romney - 25.7%
John McCain - 20.7%
Mike Huckabee - 12.3%
Rudy Giuliani - 11.7%
Fred Thompson - 10.7%
Ron Paul - 7.3%

No chance that Paul could best anyone for second! Hang on: He did. The actual results:

Mitt Romney - 51.1%
Ron Paul - 13.7%
John McCain - 12.7%
Mike Huckabee - 8.2%
Fred Thompson - 7.9%
Rudy Giuliani - 4.3%

Paul's campaign organization marshalled around twice as many votes as the polls said it could. He's far stronger this time. One example is the Elko County Republican Party, currently run by Marla Criss, who was a frustrated Paul delegate in 2008 (at the state convention, they were blocked from winning the right to go to St. Paul), dusted herself off, and led a takeover of the local organization.

"In 2008 we had candidates coming through here all the time," she said. This time, only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney had scheduled Elko visits before the caucuses. According to Jennifer Hobbs, the local party secretary, the only visible presences in the area were Paul's and Romney's.

Lucky for Gingrich, lucky for Santorum, not many voters live out here. In 2008, more than half of caucus votes were cast in the Las Vegas area, a quarter in the Reno area, and the rest spread out over the hundreds of miles of mountain and desert towns. But if you're organized in Elko, you're organized everywhere. Paul has an advantage that won't show up in polls.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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