During the Washoe County Republican Party’s election night party at a Reno casino, one of the television networks being shown on the big screens in the hall featured a discussion of Republican troubles with the Latino vote. Few of the Reno partiers paid attention. But it’s likely to become an increasingly important topic in local GOP circles. If Republicans thought Nevada was a hard fight in this year’s election, they may be sobered to learn what is ahead. It’s probably only going to get tougher.
Nevada is on the verge of becoming a non-white state.
In the 2000 census, whites made up 69 percent of the state’s population. By the 2010 census that figure was down to 54 percent. And that happened while the number of whites in the state was increasing.
“We had an increase over the past decades of Hispanics in the state, but it’s not that whites are in decline,” said State Demographer Jeff Hardcastle. “They’re just falling as a percent of the total population.”
In other words, while whites were growing rapidly, other groups were growing even more rapidly, so whites shrank as a component of the whole picture.
“My projection in 2010 was 1,611,540 for white non-Hispanic origin,” Hardcastle said. “In 2012, it was 1,616,388.”
But that growth wasn’t enough for whites to keep pace with other groups. And Latinos are not the only factor.
From the 2000 to the 2010 census African-Americans grew by 58 percent, Latino-Americans by 82 percent, and Asian-Americans by a whopping 116 percent. During that same period non-Latino whites grew by “only” 12 percent—in most contexts, a very respectable growth rate.
As it happens, the fastest growing groups in the state are those that Republicans seem to have gone out of their way to offend. Latinos would have been much more in play if it were not for all the anti-immigrant talk from Republicans.
At the same time, the importance of the small counties—a Republican stronghold—is shrinking. Nevada has been a heavily urban state for decades. It is becoming more so.
Finally, while Republicans have dismayed minority groups, the GOP’s drift to the right has also distressed moderate Republicans—the kind who once made Washoe County a GOP county. Republicans who voted for moderate members of their party like David Humke, Bob Cashell and William Raggio have found fewer and fewer such figures to embrace, with the result that they have drifted away to the Democrats.
Asian-American voters, who have come on like gangbusters in Nevada, would seem like a likely lode for Republicans to mine. They tend to be well-educated, upscale and affluent. In 1992, fewer than a third of Asian-Americans voted for Bill Clinton.
But by 2008 that number had doubled for Barack Obama. More than twice as many now are registered Democratic as Republican. But Asian-Americans who register with the two major parties put together don’t constitute even half the Asian-American vote. They are not into registering with political parties.
While all these trends are still in place in Nevada, they have also slowed down over the course of the recession that began in 2007.
The collapse of the state’s housing market stalled Nevada’s long status as the nation’s fastest growing state. The only reasons it didn’t lose population are the natural birth rate and a trickle of international arrivals.
People leaving the state amounted to 8,008. That’s the net loss when domestic arrivals and departures are compared. International arrivals came to 9,679.
Meanwhile, the birth rate among Latinos is slowing and so is the number of Latinos moving to the state.
“You don’t have the job creation we had in the ’90s and 2000s with the accompanying housing jobs,” Hardcastle said. After the recession hit, “We haven’t had the response to job creation that would bring people here.”
As a result, the day when Nevada becomes a “minority majority” state has been pushed back—Hardcastle now estimates 2031—but the trends that will lead the state there are all still active. They’re just operating more slowly. And the growth rates of these groups have often been underestimated.
Candidates in Nevada, certainly including Republicans, have been cultivating Asian-American and Latino voters. But there are limits to what individual local candidates can do if the Republican Party nationally has a stance on issues that troubles those voters. How can a Republican run independently of his party?
“I don’t think you can,” said political scientist Fred Lokken. “At the state Republican convention this year, the state party replicated the national party’s agenda. And when you get support and resources from the national party, you have to be in step with it. That seals your fate with women, minorities.”
Lokken said the Republican Party is evolving into a group of “white older males with income who are angry.”
“It’s a real head-scratcher,” he said, referring to the way the GOP has come to rely on low voter turnout among minorities and women in order to win elections. “They are counting on the low voter turnout among minority groups.”
That low turnout is another head-scratcher. If those groups turned out in large numbers, this year’s election would not have been close, and pollsters would not have gotten such different results when surveying “likely voters” as opposed to simple “voters.”
“Women are a majority in this country,” Lokken said. “They just do not exercise the political clout they have.”
Local Republicans also say that some things should not be negotiable, that the party has certain values that cannot be “adjusted”—as one volunteer at the election night party put it—in order to win elections.