Another battleground state, another toss-up contest. In one of Republicans’ best pick-up opportunities, GOP challenger Adam Laxalt and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto are neck and neck. It’s a nationalized race where voters are aware of the stakes: eight in 10 of each candidate’s supporters see their votes as helping their party win Senate control.
Cortez Masto is facing some of the same economic headwinds as other Democratic candidates around the country. Most Nevada voters say the state’s economy is in bad shape, and she’s trailing among voters hurt the most by inflation and gas prices.
As an incumbent, Cortez Masto’s record offers her no clear advantage among voters here: they divide on whether the policies she’s supported have done more to help or hurt Nevada. Most independents don’t think they’ve helped, and they are backing Laxalt.
In a state where the tourism industry was rocked by the COVID pandemic, most voters say their finances were impacted by the pandemic and the measures taken to fight it. Three in four report higher prices now being difficult, including four in 10 who say it’s been a hardship, slightly higher than the percentage for voters nationally. Added to this, Nevada has among the highest gas prices in the country, and most say that it’s impacting their families, including half who say the hike in the price of gas is having a “a lot” of impact.
Republicans have led on the issue of the economy and inflation in other Senate battleground contests, and we see that here: Laxalt has an advantage over Cortez Masto on voters who prioritize those issues, which are the top concerns in the state.
Laxalt has tried to tie Cortez Masto to President Biden, and it’s clear why. Mr. Biden’s approval rating in the state is underwater, and by more than two to one, Nevada voters say his policies have hurt, rather than helped, the state’s economy. Related to this, more voters say Cortez Masto would support policies making their financial situation worse than better — a measure on which Laxalt is slightly above water, by contrast.
Added to that is the issue of crime. It ranks just behind the economy and inflation as a very important issue, and more voters think Laxalt would support policies that would make them safe from crime than Cortez Masto would.
The issue of abortion that is giving Cortez Masto a boost. Her lead among voters who call it very important is wider than Laxalt’s is among voters who prioritize the economy, but far fewer voters place a lot importance on abortion relative to the economy and inflation, keeping this race tight.
In a state where a seven-in-10 majority of voters want abortion to be mostly legal, Cortez Masto is overwhelmingly seen as supporting policies that would protect abortion access, while Laxalt is seen as supporting restrictions.
There is a significant gender gap. Women are 25 points more likely than men to say abortion is very important to their vote, and Cortez Masto currently leads among women by 17 points. (She does even better among women who say abortion is very important in their vote.)
Laxalt’s lead with men nearly matches Cortez Masto’s with women.
Another factor helping Cortez Masto is that voters like the way she handles herself personally, more than feel that way about Laxalt.
Latinos and other voter groups
Latino voters in Nevada have the same top issue concerns that voters overall do: the economy and inflation, followed by crime.
They are also especially likely to say that rising prices have been a hardship, with half saying gas prices have impacted their families a lot. And while they make up about a fifth of registered voters in Nevada, they are significantly less likely than White voters to say they are definitely voting this year, blunting their potential impact on the race.
Cortez Masto currently leads among Latino voters by 18 points, despite the economy and Latinos’ concern about it. But Latinos do approve of the job she’s doing as senator, and there may be a personal connection: by two to one, they believe she supports policies that help, rather than hurt, Latinos.
Still, the economic stresses may be cutting into the margin of Democratic support with Latinos, since she’s up by a smaller margin than she won Latino voters when she was elected in 2016 (+29 pts).
Fifty-five percent of voters say Cortez Masto will support things that help union workers — a notable perception in a state where union voters make up a relatively larger share of the electorate. And she leads among voters who are members of a union household.
By contrast, six in 10 say Laxalt will help wealthy people, and most say so about Laxalt helping White people.
Most Nevada voters say the U.S. should be tougher on immigrants trying to cross at the border, rather than easier on them. And by two to one, they say recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America have made life in the state worse rather than better — with four in ten saying there has been no impact either way.
Latino voters are more mixed on both the impact of these immigrants and border policy, but a 43% plurality feel the U.S. should generally be tougher on those trying to cross the border.
The governor’s race
Nevada’s governor’s race looks much like the Senate race. The race is currently dead even, with incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak and Republican challenger Joe Lombardo each at 48% in vote preference.
Steve Sisolak receives a net positive, if not particularly strong, approval rating for the job he’s doing as governor. And most Nevada voters generally like how he handles himself personally, especially when compared to Lombardo.
Voters think Sisolak will support policies that will protect abortion access, but Lombardo, who is the Clark County sheriff, has an advantage on the issue of crime. More voters think he would keep them safe from crime than say that about Sisolak.
This CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey was conducted with a statewide representative sample of 1,057 registered voters in Nevada interviewed between October 14-19, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education and geographic region based on the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±4.4 points.