In introductory-level economics, students are exposed to the concept of stated versus demonstrated preferences.

Stated preferences are exactly what they sound like — they’re statements in which people say they like something. Demonstrated preferences, by contrast, are what people actually do when they have to balance their stated preferences against each other. 

I like ice cream. That’s a stated preference. 

I am not eating ice cream right now, however, because I don’t want to make my keyboard sticky by dripping melted ice cream on it and I would also prefer my waistline not to expand. That’s a demonstrated preference.

Ever since Donald J. Trump was elected president in 2016, pundits and analysts have wondered whether Trump was elected because of his Trump-ness or despite it. How did the party that nominated Mitt Romney in 2012 — the living personification of God-fearing plutocratic noblesse oblige — nominate an oft-bankrupt conspiracy theorist with a penchant for sexual abuse as their presidential candidate?

More importantly, how did he subsequently win the presidency?

According to some, voters — never a majority of voters, mind you, but enough voters to secure a majority of the electoral votes in a single presidential election — demonstrated a preference for Trump’s brash and pugilistic brand of politics. If a voter truly believes that an election is a “Flight 93 election,” a Manichaean battle that will define where cultural and political battle lines will be decided for decades, why let institutional norms or election results get in the way of the final settling of accounts?

This is philosophy where politicians and candidates like J.D. Vance, Kari Lake, Blake Masters, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the like draw their support from.

According to others, voters merely demonstrated a preference against Hillary Clinton. Once her name stopped showing up on people’s primary and general election ballots, they stopped voting against her — and by extension stopped voting for politicians, including Trump, who seemed incapable of taking “no” for an answer.

In the 2024 June primary election, Republican voters specifically and Nevadan primary voters more generally were given a chance to demonstrate their preference for one of these two explanations for Trump’s success in 2016.  

In one corner were the candidates supported by Lodi, California’s very own Robert Beadles — who, like Trump, has real estate holdings and a penchant for unhinged conspiratorial thinking. Since he moved from California to Washoe County, Beadles has been fighting tirelessly to bring the spirit of Trump’s combative nature to state and local elections. These efforts have featured, among other things, several specious lawsuits and some of the “classiest” postcards and text messages local voters like myself could possibly “ask” for.

In the other corner was a slate of candidates supported or endorsed by Gov. Joe Lombardo, who implied in a recent editorial for the New York Times that voters select politicians using the same insight they use to select household appliance brands. Is the refrigerator malfunctioning? Go to the store and buy a competing brand. Are housing prices too high? Go to the polls and vote the incumbent out.

You don’t want your dishwasher to fight for you — you just want it to keep your dishes clean. Why should your politicians be any different?

On television, Republicans might state a preference for loud and brash fighters. Once it came time for Republicans to demonstrate their preference in partisan primary races, however, Lombardo’s appliance-like slate nearly won a clean sweep. Even Washoe County Commissioner Clara Andriola won handily against a divided slate of candidates endorsed by Beadles despite being an unelected appointee with only a year of experience under her belt.

And that’s when Republicans are voting for Republicans.

In nonpartisan primary races, where voters of any partisan identification can vote, the results were even more discouraging for the combative wing of the Republican Party. Every candidate supported by Beadles either lost or came in a distant second place. Beadles’ supported candidates for Washoe County School District board, including incumbent Jeff Church, all lost by large margins. 

Where Beadles’ preferred candidates advanced to the general, it was solely on a technicality — Reno City Council races allow the top two candidates to advance and his favored candidates, Denise Myer and Brian Cassidy, both received the second-most votes for their races. They were each, however, at least 10 percent behind the top vote-getter.

It’s perhaps not hugely surprising that voters in nonpartisan primary elections might vote against overtly conservative candidates, though the margin of victory enjoyed by Beadles’ opposition was striking. Democratic primary voters, who also vote in nonpartisan primary elections, were certainly motivated to oppose them.

That Republican primary voters aren’t enthusiastic about Trump-like candidates, however, is more surprising. Surely if anyone can be sold on the idea that voters prefer candidates who are willing to fight in favor of conservative ideological causes, as Trump does, it would be Republican primary voters.

While acknowledging that primary election results are no predictor of general election outcomes, it’s still tempting to wonder how enthusiastic voters will be to support Trump when even the most motivated voters in his party are increasingly demonstrating a preference for less of his style and substance.

David Colborne ran for public office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Bluesky, on Threads @davidcolbornenv or email him at [email protected].

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