In Nevada, Democrats' midterm prospects look better despite headwinds: Suffolk poll

Ken Tran
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is surrounded by supporters as she attends a campaign event at a Mexican restaurant Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Las Vegas.

In Nevada, incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto leads her Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, by seven percentage points (45%-38%), according to a new poll conducted by Suffolk University and the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Cortez Masto's latest polling numbers are a significant voter swing in her favor. In April, in a hypothetical matchup prior to winning the Nevada Republican primary, Laxalt led Cortez Masto by 3 percentage points (43%-40%) according to a previous poll also conducted by Suffolk University and the Reno Gazette-Journal. 

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the Nevada Senate race as a toss-up election that could determine control of the Senate. The poll's findings come as eyebrows raise within the Republican Party over the quality and electability of GOP candidates in purple swing states. 

Here are other key findings from the poll, conducted among 500 likely Nevada voters. 

Voters are still most concerned with the economy 

Inflation and the economy remain on the top of voters' minds – 34% of respondents said the economy is the most important issue to them. 

As Republicans hammer President Joe Biden and Democrats over high inflation rates, Laxalt leads Cortez Masto among economically concerned voters by 60-21%. 

Despite the latest Consumer Price Index report, which showed signs that inflation was easing off 40-year record highs, 74% of likely Nevada voters would rate the economy as either “fair” or “poor.” And 46% of voters said their standard of living is worse today than it was two years ago. 

Republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt speaks at a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas. Officials from several law enforcement unions, including the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and the National Border Patrol Counsel, spoke in support of Laxalt's candidacy.

Biden’s approval is improving in Nevada, but still unpopular

In Nevada, where Biden won by a slim margin of a little more than 2 percentage points, voters are more approving of Biden's job as president compared to months prior. 

In April, according to a previous poll conducted by Suffolk University and the Reno Gazette-Journal, Biden had an approval rating of 35% and disapproval rating of 59%. 

Now, Biden’s approval rating in Nevada is still low, but higher at 41% compared to his disapproval rating of 52%.

Biden’s slight rise in approval comes after a series of legislative victories for Democrats, including the CHIPS Act, the PACT Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Democrats hope their legislative wins can provide the momentum they need to retain control of Congress.

Cortez Masto sees boost post-Dobbs

After the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in June, Republicans could be seeing the political fallout from the 13% of voters who say abortion is the most important issue on the ballot.

Cortez Masto leads Laxalt by 79%-11% among abortion minded voters and 53%-30% among women. Her numbers come as Democrats seek to energize Democratic turnout through abortion politics. 

Even for voters who did not say abortion was the most important issue, the majority of voters said abortion will have a significant impact on how they vote.

On a scale of one to 10 (one being "not at all" and 10 being "very much"), 52% of likely voters gave abortion a score of eight to 10 on the impact of abortion on their vote. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks to Abortion-rights activists after the announcement to the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court's decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion.

Nevadans support raising minimum wage, somewhat

Almost three-quarters – 71% – of likely voters either “somewhat supported” or “strongly supported” a ballot question to raise the minimum wage in Nevada to $12 an hour by July 2024, allow the state legislature to increase the minimum wage, and make it so Nevada's minimum wage can never fall below the federal minimum wage. 

Existing state law will already raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour for employees with health insurance and $12 an hour for all other employees, but the ballot question would provide a $12 minimum wage across the board.

Ranked choice voting could be getting more popular

Nevada voters could be seeing ranked choice ballots in future elections, as another ballot question will ask voters if they support ranked choice voting in open nonpartisan primaries and statewide general elections.

A slim majority of 52% either “somewhat support” or “strongly support” the measure, while 34% either “somewhat oppose” or “strongly oppose.” About 14% are undecided on the question. 

The citizen initiative, brought to the ballot by petition of registered voters and not the legislature, would have to pass by simple majority this year and in 2024 according to Nevada law.