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Why registered independents in Nevada are considered a voting bloc wildcard

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

About a third of Nevada's voters are registered independents, but they won't, by law, be able to vote in the state's presidential primaries today, nor in the GOP caucuses later this week. They represent a significant voting bloc in the purple state. So what issues will drive them to the polls in November? Our colleague A Martínez put that question to Sondra Cosgrove. She's a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada and the executive director of the civic engagement nonprofit Vote Nevada.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Tell us about Nevada's voters who are not registered with either party. How do they fit in? What's their particular demographic?

SONDRA COSGROVE: So I teach at the community college, and I know a lot of my students who are first-time voters have registered nonpartisan because they're interested in issues, but not necessarily, you know, wedded to one particular party. But Nevada tends to be a little bit on the kind of don't-tell-me-what-to-do independent streak. And so people will register nonpartisan just 'cause they don't want to have a party, you know, telling them you're going to do this or that. So it's just a lot of people who are very issue-oriented.

MARTÍNEZ: And what kind of a mix would you say - are we talking white voters, Black voters, Latinos? What's that mix like?

COSGROVE: It's a mix of everybody. So I know where the people I'm talking to, it's my young Latino voters. I've got some older white voters. It just - it's a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons, have decided to keep that kind of independent moniker that I'm a nonpartisan voter and that I should be able to split my ticket. I should be able to decide for who I want without a party telling me.

MARTÍNEZ: So how crucial a role have they played in previous presidential elections?

COSGROVE: Interesting question because 2010, 2011, that group of voters was pretty small, but it has bloomed extremely in the last little while. Part of that is because we adopted automatic voter registration at the DMV. But when people are asked, are you aware you're registered, they'll say, yeah, and they understand they're registered nonpartisan, but we don't have a lot of polling, and we don't have a lot of elections where they've weighed in. So right now they're a wild card.

MARTÍNEZ: How much have you heard from the people that you've spoken to that they're the way they are because they're just fed up with the whole system and the whole way it's set up?

COSGROVE: Yeah, I've heard kind of a-pox-on-both-their-houses type of comments.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

COSGROVE: They seem corrupt. Everything seems chaotic. My students actually say they feel like they're being bullied by the parties because of the negative campaigning and just kind of the way the parties treat people. I hear all kinds of reasons, but a lot of I just don't like the status quo. I want to be registered to vote, and I want to participate, but they just don't like the political parties right now.

MARTÍNEZ: What are the issues that they would like to hear presidential candidates focus on?

COSGROVE: I hear a lot from my students and the people I talk to about housing - the unaffordability of housing, the lack of housing, high rents, volatility in rent, that they can't get more than a six-months lease, and then every time their lease is up, the rent goes up. And it's not like they can just get a raise and find someplace else to live, 'cause we just have a shortage of housing.

MARTÍNEZ: What other things have you heard?

COSGROVE: Inflation - just how expensive things are and that people just don't feel like their paycheck is going far enough. They'll say it just feels like I'm getting farther and farther behind.

MARTÍNEZ: What reasons, if any, have they given you for perhaps sitting out this election?

COSGROVE: I don't hear a lot of excitement for Trump or Biden, and I have a lot of younger students who are saying, really, it's the same old white dudes again? I mean, there's got to be other people. The Democratic field in 2020 - when they came through Nevada for the presidential primary, there was, like, 15 people on that ticket, and everybody felt like there was somebody that represented their views. And now, I mean, we're only, like, three states in, and they're being told, nope, it's going to be these two dudes, and that's all you get. And so people are looking for more choice.

MARTÍNEZ: No Labels is a group that's trying to offer a third-party presidential candidate this year, and in August it qualified in Nevada as a minor party. Sondra, what does that tell you about the state's electorate and where their head and heart is right now about this?

COSGROVE: Again, I think it's telling me that voters are mad at the two political parties and are looking for something else. Whether No Labels is going to be able to attract those voters, I'm not sure, because we don't know who they're going to run on a ticket or if they'll even run somebody. But I think that's a real threat here, is that you're going to have people who are saying I don't want to vote being pulled in if No Labels comes in and says, here we have another option for you and we want to listen to you. I think that could have a big impact in Nevada.

MARTÍNEZ: How big of an impact - to where it could swing the White House kind of an impact?

COSGROVE: Well, 33% of our voters are registered nonpartisan. That's the largest group of voters in the state of Nevada. That's a huge treasure trove of voters for a third party to come in and talk to, and if they can pull them in to vote for that third party, that could flip a race.

MARTÍNEZ: Sondra Cosgrove is executive director of the civic engagement nonprofit Vote Nevada. Sondra, thank you very much.

COSGROVE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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