Why Clinton's Nevada Win Is So Crucial

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On Saturday, Nevada Democrats took to their caucusing locations throughout the state. Beginning at noon local time, voters who were in line by that time were eligible to caucus for either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. With 67-percent of precincts reporting, the polls are 52.2-percent for Clinton and 47.7-percent for Sanders; as of press time, Clinton is projected to win the Nevada caucuses. This is what makes a Clinton win in Nevada so crucial: With a narrowing national polling gap between Sanders and Clinton — a Fox News poll has Sanders ahead of Clinton by three points nationally — the race to the Democratic presidential nomination has ramped up even more so since Sanders's victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Before Saturday's caucus, it was widely speculated that Clinton would take the Nevada caucus handily, despite Sanders's surprising victory in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9. Within hours of her New Hampshire defeat, Clinton's campaign released a new campaign strategy with a focus on March primaries — and thus states with the highest delegate counts — in order to net the most numbers of delegates for the Democratic National Convention July 25–28 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even with her campaign focusing on March primaries, a victory in Nevada only adds to her delegate count.

The 2016 presidential candidate trail has garnered considerably more interest than in past election cycles, with record voter turnout in the New Hampshire primary on its 100th anniversary. Likewise, caucus locations were crowded across the Silver State as voters caucused in classrooms, town halls, and even in casinos.

Much like the Iowa caucuses, the Nevada caucuses comprise a seemingly less formal way of measuring Democratic candidate support — there are no paper ballots and closed off voting booths — but the process is anything but casual. Volunteers conduct local area meetings where voters must stand on one side of the room or the other to indicate their candidate preference. Because votes are counted by hand at the caucus location, results roll in over the course of the caucus day. While Nevada has had historically low voter turnout in the past, MSNBC's chief legal correspondent, Ari Melber, tweeted on Saturday that the majority of people out in Nevada today are caucusing for the first time.

One of the most interesting demographics between supports of Clinton versus Sanders is their age: Younger voters are flocking toward Sanders while Clinton has taken advantage of older voter support. Historically, Democratic candidates have suffered from low voter turnout during presidential elections; younger voters are less likely to get out and vote on election day. While Sanders has received a groundswell of support from younger voters, the proof will be in the pudding come election day on Nov. 8.

Next up for Clinton and Sanders is the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27, where Clinton is also heavily favored to win.