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Hit the road, Desert Companion readers! And while you're at it, have a look around. This issue invites you to not only escape to the outdoors, but also to think about the environmental issues affecting our pursuits and our world.

Primary Concerns

Biden and Trump's headshots side by side
Associated Press

Partisan voters say economy, immigration, and abortion will drive their choices in 2024

It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict the outcome of Nevada’s presidential preference primary and the state Republican Party’s caucus earlier this year. As an incumbent, President Joe Biden’s nomination for reelection was secure, while Republican Party politics ensured former President Donald Trump’s victory in the state.

Nonetheless, the elections were an opportunity to talk to Democratic and Republican voters about the issues that are important to them this election cycle. Here’s what they said.

The economy

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Ask any voter what’s on their mind as they cast a ballot, and some version of “the economy” is almost always the first response. It’s a fair concern and a complicated reality.

Since the pandemic, Nevada has experienced slower economic recovery than the rest of the country because of its dependence on hospitality and tourism. Unemployment rates are among the worst in the country, wage growth remains sluggish, and Nevadans spend a higher percentage of their paycheck on energy, grocery, and housing costs than the average American.

At the same time, traditional metrics indicate that the economy continues chugging along. Inflation is down, consumer spending is up, and economic growth is exceeding expectations. That’s especially true in Nevada casinos, which have reported bringing in more than a billion dollars in gambling profit every month since 2020.

Either way, most people would agree that a dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, and some voters will likely express their frustrations about that at the ballot box.

Reproductive rights

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In 1990, voters approved a state law protecting abortion up to 24 weeks. Since then, polling has consistently shown that roughly two in three Nevadans believe access to abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” It would require another ballot initiative to change the law, meaning reproductive rights are as safe here as anywhere else in the country.

That said, Democrats see voters’ desire to have abortion access protected nationally as a mobilizing issue. Therefore, they’ll keep focusing on it in 2024. It’s also why state party leaders and their allies are working on a series of ballot initiatives that would enshrine abortion rights in the Nevada Constitution. If that campaign is successful in getting an abortion-related question on the ballot, it could have a dramatic impact on voter turnout this November and again in 2026.

We knew the results of the primary and caucus last week before they came out. What does it all mean?

Border security/migration management

Republicans equate the situation along the U.S. southern border to a national disaster. According to a December 2023 AP-NORC poll, 55 percent of GOP voters say the federal government should focus on immigration this year. The same poll also found that an increasing number of Democrats were also voicing concern.

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Illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high last year, with the U.S. Border Patrol reporting just under 250,000 arrests on the Mexican border in December. In response, Biden has taken steps to increase border security and restrict asylum seekers from entering the country. However, the administration’s failure to secure a border deal through Congress may spell disaster for a campaign trying to win the votes of those who want to see progress.

Known unknowns

Ultimately, the presidential primary and caucus results tell us only so much. As closed elections, they did nothing to help the public understand how either candidate would fare among nonpartisan voters — Nevada’s largest voting bloc. There is also potential for a third-party or independent candidate to draw much-needed support from either of the major candidates. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign began working earlier this year to gather enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Many Nevadans may also choose to stay home on Election Day. Voters are expressing politics fatigue, and why not? This election is the second time Biden and Trump will face each other on the ballot. It’s the third election in a row when Donald Trump’s name — with all its baggage — will be at the top of the GOP ticket. And Biden first took federal office the year the Vietnam War ended.

It adds up to a year of the most predictable factor of all … uncertainty.

Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.