The reason Harry Reid’s pollster, Mark Mellman, nailed the result in 2010 was that he correctly forecast what the demographics of the turnout would look like – how many Hispanics, how much Clark County would be of the total, the difference between GOP and Democratic turnout. And the better pollsters know how to change their models as the campaign evolves, to adjust for whatever atmospherics require some adjustment.
One of the more obvious factors is voter registration, especially in a high-turnout, presidential year, when 80 percent or so of voters will turn out, making likely voter samples not as important as in off-years, when turnout is about 50 percent here. The other important factor often not employed by pollsters in Nevada –especially those who have not been conducting surveys in the state for very long – is history.
Both of those indicators tell me that a series of recent polls do not take into account either the surge in Democratic registration or recent history – i.e. the last two cycles.
Long story short: The vast majority of public polling of Nevada is wrong. And it's wrong precisely because these pollsters use "likely voter models" which throw out too many likely Democratic voters, such as Latinos, youth, and people who work the night shift on The Strip and can't answer most pollsters' calls.
So how is this deja vu? Well, let's step into our time machine and rewind to October 2010. In the DC Beltway, the pundits were discussing the details of Harry Reid's political funeral and the coronation of new "Tea Party Queen" and "Soon to Be Senator" Sharron Angle. But in and around the Las Vegas Beltway, those "in the know" knew better. What was key was the ground game, mainly that Harry Reid and Nevada Democrats actually had one while Angle and her "tea party" BFFs were bumbling around with their fancy phones and three-people-to-one-clipboard (No, I'm not kidding or exaggerating!) antics.
In 2010, many pundits just assumed that "TEA" fueled "momentum" would thrust Sharron Angle over the top. What they failed to notice was the phenomenal ground game built by Nevada Democrats. So while Harry Reid was giving his victory speech at Aria, local Democrats were cheering while pundits back in DC were dropping their jaws in total shock.
Fast forward to now. Once again, Nevada Democrats have been incredibly busy in the field. They've been making gains in voter registration like no one had expected just six months ago. Oh, and that's not all.
Last weekend, a group of LA County Young Democrats drove here from Southern California to help the local Nevada Democratic field office in knocking more doors and making more calls. Even more volunteers have been coming in lately because early voting will begin this Saturday. So the field organizers wanted to kick into high gear and get ready for EGOTV ("early get out the vote").
On the doors, volunteers talked to some newly registered Democrats, infrequent voters, and persuadable Nonpartisans & Republicans. So far, the Democrats have been mostly backing President Obama, Shelley Berkley, and John Oceguera, along with some Nonpartisans, while most of the rest of the Nonpartisans (and even a few of the Republicans!) seem to be keeping an open mind.
There were many volunteers grabbing clipboards and walk packets on Saturday. Yesterday, the office filled up again as a mix of the California helpers and local volunteers were making phone calls. The calls were going out to the same set of voters, and similar results were obtained. As one can see above, the "super organizers" at the Henderson field office have mastered the art of volunteer recruitment and retention.
So why does this all matter? Basically, Nevada Democrats have been expanding the electorate and "banking in" votes that most public pollsters aren't even expecting to vote. This is why most of the national and international media reports on the current state of play in Nevada diverge so wildly from what "those in the know" are actually seeing on the ground.
And especially now, more so than ever before, this work on the ground is incredibly valuable. With "tea party" aligned Super PACs dumping so much money into TV ads and "Astroturf" games, a strong field operation is critical in countering this. And so far, Nevada Democrats know exactly when and how to release their "Ace in the hole". It's really all about winning on the ground now.