Despite Surging Economy, Disenchanted Nevada Democrats Switching Parties

With Americans eager to return to some semblance of normal life despite the ongoing pandemic, Nevada's sprawling economic engine in Las Vegas has been humming, with the state adding jobs and income growing.

But an early set of data could present a worrying sign for Democrats, as more Democratic voters are switching parties or leaving their party than Republicans.

According to December data from Nevada's secretary of state, 2.5 times more voters switched from Democrat to Republican than the reverse, while 1.5 times more voters moved from Democrat to nonpartisan than Republicans did.

Jon Ralston, widely viewed as the dean of political journalism in Nevada, flagged the four months of data for his news site, The Nevada Independent. He said it's "too early" to make any pronouncements, but added a caveat.

"If this trend continues," Ralston told Newsweek, "it could be an indicator that Democrats have a bigger brand problem here than Republicans."

The voters leaving the Democratic Party represent a small percentage of the more than 1.8 million registered voters in Nevada. And In Clark County, which is Nevada's most populous county and home to Las Vegas, new non-major-party voters surpassed Republicans.

"Republicans have been relegated to third-party status here for a long time," Ralston said. "But the national atmosphere — Biden's approval rating here — is not good, giving Republican candidates who ordinarily would not have a chance, a chance."

Nevada's economy isn't just surging, it is actually tops in the nation in recovery in some key economic indicators.

According to the Federal Funds Information for States' (FFIS) Index of State Economic Momentum released in December, which rates states on employment growth, personal income growth, and population growth, Nevada is ranked number one for its rate of economic recovery.

The report came after Governor Steve Sisolak announced Nevada led the country in GDP growth in the first half of 2021.

Figures like that should normally bode well for incumbent elected officials, but Democrats like Sisolak and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto are instead sweating out what could be close contests in November.

"It's clear that the Democratic party is struggling with their messaging, not only to party members, but to ordinary Americans," Andres Ramirez, a veteran Democratic strategist who spent years in Las Vegas, told Newsweek.

"By every metric, President Biden and Governor Sisolak have performed miracles in improving the economy," he added, "and yet there is still overwhelming dissatisfaction with our elected leaders at the moment."

James Campos, a former Trump appointee to the U.S. Department of Energy who was also appointed to Nevada governmental roles by former Governor Brian Sandoval, told Newsweek the trend of Democratic voters leaving the party is going to continue, and if it does, it will be an issue for Democrats in November.

"Regardless of some of the gains Nevada has experienced, it's still not the best economy, there's still a lot of fear on the housing market," he said, pointing also to an "overall malaise" afflicting voters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said that while voters are pointing fingers at both parties, they have a lack of confidence in the current leadership.

Democrats say the increase in the number of voters switching to a nonpartisan affiliation has been happening for a decade, and has been accelerated by new registrants who are automatically registered as nonpartisan by the DMV as of January 2020. They also say nonpartisan voters are also switching to the Democratic Party, which is the only way to vote in a party primary.

But the four months of Nevada data came before Gallup released a new poll Monday showing a big shift in party identification in 2021, with the Republican Party showing a +7 gain and Democrats falling -7 points.

"When there's been a big shift toward one party before an election (2006, 2010, 2014), that party tends to do well," the Washington Post noted. "The shift over the course of 2021 is the sharpest change recorded in the past 15 years."

It's an added reason Nevada's early numbers are worth monitoring ahead of the midterm elections, data that Ralston said could possibly presage a "red wave" despite Republicans other faults.

"The GOP has done a terrible job of recruiting good candidates for these offices up and down the ticket, and that's [the] Democrats' best hope," he said. "But the winds are blowing the GOP's way despite an improving economy. It's January only, but it doesn't look good for Democrats."

las vegas
People gather during the celebratory grand opening of Resorts World Las Vegas hotel and casino on June 24, 2021 in Las Vegas. The owners of the giant new casino are betting that receding fears of COVID-19 will bring a strong recovery in the international gambling hub. BRIDGET BENNETT/AFP/Getty Images

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