The Nevada Caucus: First in the West

Every state has some sort of primary election to help assist each political party in obtaining their nominee for President. Some states have closed primaries, others have open primaries, and a select few have caucuses. In 2020, three states – Iowa, Nevada, and Wyoming –will have presidential caucuses, with Iowa having a caucus for both the Democratic and Republican parties and Nevada and Wyoming having caucuses for only the Democratic party.  While the caucuses in all three states will attract attention, Nevada will be especially watched because the state’s increasingly diverse voting pool offers its first glimpse into how candidates fare with a variety of voting contingents.

Caucuses are gatherings of political supporters, organized by the political parties themselves, and are different than elections because they happen on a specific day, at a specific time, often at a different location than one’s regular polling station. For these reasons, caucuses tend to attract staunch ideological advocates who are more politically knowledgeable while having the effect of limiting voter turnout due to the increased amount of time it takes to participate, compared to a typical primary election. While for an election, you may be able to vote relatively quickly at your designated polling station and even vote early by mail, caucuses are not an “in and out” process, but rather take hours to complete. This can contribute to a lower turnout, as voters simply don’t have the time or availability to participate in such a lengthy process. While participating in a caucus may be time consuming, they offer the opportunity for a different political experience –one that you will not find in a majority of the states. Although many voters may see caucuses as time consuming, they often offer the opportunity to connect with your political community and learn more about a party’s candidates. Moreover, caucuses not only make room for the passions of staunch ideological members, they also offer more moderate voters who don’t know where they “fit in” an opportunity to develop their passion for a particular candidate.

While participating in a caucus may be time consuming, they offer the opportunity for a different political experience –one that you will not find in a majority of the states.

For Nevada, causes are relatively new. The first presidential caucus occurred in 2008. While both the Democratic and Republican parties have caucuses in the state, the requirement for participation is different. For Democrats, you do not need to be registered in advance while Republicans require registration at least 10 days before the caucus takes place.[1] While Nevada is not well known for caucuses, the caucus is becoming increasingly important as it occurs early in the primary election season giving Nevada the “First in the West” title. In addition, the state serves as the first major test for how candidates connect with an increasingly diverse group of voters, specifically Latino voters. With its changing demographics and fast-growing population, Nevada has become an indicator of which candidates have a real chance to carry the election.[2] Nevada is known as both a bellwether and a swing state. As a bellwether state, Nevada has voted for the winner of the presidential election in every race since 1912 with the exceptions of the 1976 and 2016 elections.[3] As a swing state, although Nevada has a stellar record of picking the winner of the presidential election, rarely does a candidate win with more than 10 percentage points of the vote (Barack Obama being the exception in 2008).

While Nevada is not well known for caucuses, the caucus is becoming increasingly important as it occurs early in the primary election season giving Nevada the “First in the West” title.

At the end of the day, what does this all mean?  It means that Nevada will have a lot of attention come February 22nd when the Democrats hold their presidential caucus. The Republicans have chosen to cancel their caucus in Nevada as they are putting all of their “chips” on Donald Trump as their party’s nominee. For those who have the time and know-how to participate, it will be an exciting day; but when all is said and done on February 22nd, we have to be careful not to read too much into the results of the caucus as the ideological stallworths will somewhat inflate the vote. Regardless, if you are in a state that caucuses, clear your schedule, if you can, and participate in the community gathering. You’ll meet new people, hear more about the political candidates, and be a part of a small minority of states that use this system to help political parties select their nominees. Besides, after February 22nd, all eyes will shift to March 3rd, or Super Tuesday as we now call it!


[1] Rindels, Michelle, “Here’s How the Nevada Caucuses Work”, PBS News Hour, February 19th, 2016 https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/heres-how-the-nevada-caucuses-work

NV Dems, “2020 Caucus: Frequently Asked Questions”, https://nvdems.com/2020-caucus-frequently-asked-questions/

[2] Nilsen, Ella, “The 2020 Nevada caucuses – and growing political power of the west – explained”, Vox, June 20th, 2019  https://www.vox.com/2019/6/20/18659691/2020-nevada-caucuses-presidential-election

[3] Kondik, Kyle, “The states the do – and don’t – pick presidents”, UVA Center for Politics, September 15th, 2011 http://centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/kdk2011091502/

Precious Hall, professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, is a guest contributor for the RAISE the Vote Campaign. The views expressed in the posts and articles featured in the RAISE the Vote campaign are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of APSA.

Dr. Precious Hall is a professor of Political Science at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada where she has taught since 2012. Through her lens of research, she has investigated minority politicians in the post-Obama government and the rhetoric and style of campaigns used by African American politicians in the notion of a post racial society.  Presently, her research lies at the intersection of race, power, and privilege in American politics.