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Spotlight On Nevada: Immigration, Latino Voters and the 2012 Elections

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August 2012 | Click here to download PDF

In the Presidential race, Nevada is considered a battleground state. Nevada also has a competitive Senate race, which pits incumbent Senator Dean Heller (R), who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Senator John Ensign’s retirement, against U.S. Representative Shelley Berkeley (D).  Also, two of the four House races are viewed as competitive.  As in 2010, Latino voters will play a determinative role this cycle in Nevada.

Nevada’s Latino population grew 81% between 2000 and 2010, and was responsible for almost half (46%) of the state’s population growth.  This growth helped Nevada win a fourth congressional seat and an additional electoral vote, bringing its total to six.

We saw the power of the Latino vote in the 2010 Senate matchup between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle.  Immigration was a key issue during that race, which Reid won 50% to 45%.  Latinos accounted for 12% of the electorate and Reid secured 90% of that vote.  According to Latino Decisions, the net effect of the Latino vote in the 2010 Senate race was a 10 point swing to Harry Reid—that’s TWICE his margin of victory over Sharron Angle.  In fact, Senate Majority Leader Reid credited his 2010 victory to Latino turnout.

Polling of Latino Voters in Nevada

All findings are from a June 2012 Latino Decisions/America’s Voice poll of 400 Latino voters in Nevada (part of a poll of 2,000 Latino voters across five battleground states). Full poll results for all states can be found here, and further analysis can be found here.

  • The immigration issue motivates Nevada Latinos.  Sixty-three percent say that President Obama’s decision to protect DREAMers from deportation has made them more enthusiastic about voting for him; the same number say Mitt Romney’s opposition to the DREAM Act and support for “self-deportation” make them less likely to vote for him in November.
  • Fifty-two percent of Nevada Latinos named immigration as one of the most important issues that President Obama and Congress should address. Jobs and the economy were also important issues, with 31% of Nevada Latinos naming the economy as one of the most important issues, and 26% naming jobs.
  • Immigration reform is not just an “issue” for Nevada Latinos—it’s personal.  Seventy-four percent know someone who is undocumented, and 41% know someone who has faced detention or deportation.
  • They strongly support President Obama over Mitt Romney.  Sixty-nine percent of Latino voters in Nevada plan to vote for Barack Obama in November, while 20% plan to support Mitt Romney.

Nevada Latinos By The Numbers


Latinos in Nevada (2010 Census)


Growth in Latino Population, 2000-2010 (2010 Census)


Latino Proportion of Eligible Voters (projection via William Frey/Ruy Teixeira, 2012)


Latino Proportion of Registered Voters (projection via Latino Decisions, 2012)

Competitive 2012 Senate Race

Incumbent: Dean Heller (R), appointed 2011

Latino % of Population 26.5%
Candidates Shelly Berkley (D), U.S. Representativevs. Dean Heller (R), incumbent
Competitiveness Rating Toss-up (as of 8/21) (Cook Political Report); 8th most likely to flip parties among all Senate races (National Journal)
Immigration In The Race Dean Heller has been vocally anti-immigrant since being appointed to the Senate in 2010. In January 2012, he told Hispanic business leaders that he opposed the DREAM Act and believed in ending birthright citizenship. His campaign website, however, contains different messages on immigration in its Spanish-language and English-language versions, and he has been trying to appear more moderate on the issue.Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has a pro-immigrant record in Congress; her campaign website features a petition calling Heller’s agenda “downright insulting” to Nevada Hispanics. She has been strongly supportive of President Obama’s recent action to provide relief from deportation to DREAMers.
Polling LatinosBerkley: 53%Heller: 30%Undecided: 17%

(Latino Decisions, June 2012; see polling details in previous section)



Berkley: 45%

Heller: 47%

Undecided: 8%

(Public Policy Polling, August 2012)

Competitive 2012 House Races*

Congressional  District

Latino % of Population




Immigration in the Race

NV-3—Heck (R) 15.66% (estimate via Nevada state legislature) John Oceguera, state Assembly Speaker (D) vs. U.S. Representative Joe Heck (R), who won in 2010 by 1,748 votes R toss-up (Cook Political Report); 31st most likely to flip among all House races (National Journal) In February 2012, Heck stated that he has concerns about the DREAM Act and is open to altering the 14th Amendment.
NV-4—NEW 27.26% (estimate via Nevada state legislature) OPEN SEAT: Steven Hosford, state senate Majority Leader (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian, real estate agent and 2010 Senate candidate (R) Likely D (Cook Political Report); 40th most likely to flip among all House races (National Journal) In July 2012, Tarkanian had a tense meeting with Hispanic activists in which he accused President Obama of using Hispanics as a “political football.”  Regarding Obama’s relief for DREAMers, he said “I certainly don’t agree with it because it wasn’t passed in Congress.”

*In 2012 there are two other House districts in Nevada.  The 1st congressional district in Las Vegas is an open seat, but considered a safe Democratic district this cycle.  Nevada’s 2nd congressional district is rated as a safe Republican seat. (These assessments are based on Cook Political Report ratings and the absence of these seats from National Journal rankings.)


Previous Election Data

Election Overall Result Latino Result Latino % of Electorate Latino Contribution
2010 Nevada Senate Reid 50% – Angle 45% (CNN) Reid 90% – Angle 8% (Latino Decisions) 12% (Latino Decisions) 9.8% to Reid (Latino Decisions)
2010 Nevada U.S. House Races Democrats 45.22% – Republicans 50.85% (Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives) Democrats 89%-Republicans 11% (Latino Decisions) 12% Latino Decisions) 9.4% to Democrats (Latino Decisions)
2008 Nevada Presidential Results Obama 55% – McCain 43% (CNN) Obama 76% – McCain 22% (CNN) 11.6% (2008 U.S. Census) 6.3% to Obama (CNN/Census)
2008 U.S. House Races in Nevada Democrats 53.18%-Republicans 42.53% (Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives) Unavailable 11.6% (2008 U.S. Census) Unavailable


Why Latino Turnout Matters In Nevada

The power of the Latino vote in Nevada was clear in the 2010 Senate results.  In Nevada and elsewhere, the Latino firewall played a decisive role in keeping the Senate in Democratic hands, in a year when Republicans were on the rise.  As noted above, Latino voters comprised 12% of the Nevada electorate in 2010.

In June 2012, Latino Decisions and America’s Voice Education Fund unveiled a new online tool, LatinoVoteMap.org, which allows users to simulate different outcomes in the 2012 election by adjusting Latino turnout levels and candidate choices.

NOTE: The Latino Vote Map is updated regularly with the most recent polling and registration data, so projections and estimates are subject to change, and the scenarios discussed here for the Latino vote may not lead to the same projections for the statewide vote. Double-check the projection for any scenario discussed here by clicking on Nevada, then moving the sliders above the map until the bottom two numbers in the box match the numbers in the screenshot provided. This section is based on the September 4th update to the map.

The Latino Vote Map currently labels Nevada as “leaning Obama.” Based on registration and census data, its median estimate is that Latinos will make up 14.2% of the Nevada electorate. Assuming that Romney wins 20% of the Latino vote in Nevada, consistent with the June Latino Decisions poll, and that 14.2% of all voters in the state are Latino, Obama will defeat Romney in Nevada with 49.2% of the statewide vote to Romney’s 45.5%:

However, as Latino Decisions’ Matt Barreto has written, “even small fluctuations in the Latino vote have a profound impact on the presidential election results” in Nevada.  In August, Barreto named Nevada as a “Tier 1” Latino vote state along with Colorado and Florida, explaining: “In each of these states, if Latino voter turnout decreases, Barack Obama loses his lead to Mitt Romney.  Or, if turnout stays at expected levels but Romney gains 10-15 points among Latino voters he wins all three of these key battlegrounds and their combined 44 electoral college votes.  There is absolutely no question Latinos will be influential in these three states.”

With such slim margins, every vote counts. Republican groups already have a strategy to persuade undecided Latinos to vote Republican, and Democratic-leaning Latinos to stay home: attacking President Obama on immigration (as they are doing with a Spanish-language TV ad currently airing in the state) to reduce turnout among Democratic-leaning Latinos and expand the share for the GOP. If the strategy works in Nevada, Romney could make a significant dent in Obama’s already tight lead. If enough Democratic-leaning Latinos stay home in November that Latinos only make up 12.3% of the Nevada electorate, and 25% of those Latinos who do show up vote for Romney, Obama’s lead falls to within an extremely tight margin—under 1.5 percentage points:

Visit LatinoVoteMap.org to see for yourself how Latino voters are poised to influence the 2012 elections.