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Mitt Romney coasted to victory in the Nevada caucuses in 2008 with over 50 percent of the vote, more than his six opponents combined. He's poised to make it two straight on Saturday. Newt Gingrich is heavily favored to take second place with about 80 percent likelihood to Ron Paul's 20 percent chance, according to the prediction markets.
The first thing that most people associate with Nevada is Vegas. About 70 percent of the population lives in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and the surrounding metro area. In 2008, Barack Obama won the county by nearly 20 percentage points. But Nevada's primary contest is closed, meaning only registered Republicans can vote. In 2008, about 50 percent of the Republican caucus goers were from outside of Clark County. And, most importantly for Romney, roughly 1 in 5 were Mormons, who voted 9 in 10 for Romney.
Mormons are 74 percent Republican and they have proven extremely loyal in voting for Romney, who is a leader in the Church. Thus, even relatively small Mormon populations loom large in the Republican primary, as most Mormons are Republican, they have a high voting rate, and are extremely likely to support Romney as a block:
Sources: US Census, Association of Religion Data Archives. Design and Implementation: Chris Wilson
Of course, there is another side to Romney's Mormon support. A June Gallup survey reported that 18 percent of Republicans would not vote for a Mormon. If this number truly held in the voting booth, Romney would not be able to win a general election. Yet, this is not a revealed preference in a voting booth, but a statement made to a pollster well over a year before Election Day. If Romney becomes the nominee, I would expect this number to soften considerably.
David Rothschild is an economist at Yahoo! Research. He has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation is in creating aggregated forecasts from individual-level information. Follow him on Twitter @DavMicRot and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.