Could the 2016 election ring the death knell of two-party politics in Colorado?
A new Gazette poll of 600 likely voters in El Paso County reveals overwhelming support for a proposal on the November ballot to bring a presidential primary election back to Colorado - and to allow the state's largest voting bloc, the unaffiliated, to participate for the first time.
If it and a companion measure pass statewide, which the El Paso County numbers suggest is likely, it will have devastating consequences for both major political parties in the state, says a former state party chair and veteran of the Colorado political scene.
Ryan Call, who led the Colorado Republican Party from 2011 to 2015, predicted that if the measures become law, 50 percent or more of the state's voters will be registering as unaffiliated within six to eight years of the policies taking effect. Unaffiliated voters already account for more than a third of Colorado's registered voters, outnumbering both Republicans and Democrats.
Call said the state was launched on that trajectory by some political missteps years ago, but Propositions 107 and 108 now facing voters could deal a knockout blow to the major parties.
"The trend has occurred in great measure because the state legislature back in 2002 eliminated presidential primaries," he said. He said he had supported restoring the presidential primary, but one that allowed only party members to cast ballots. That would have addressed the desire of rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats alike to have a direct voice in the state's presidential picks.
By that calculus, the lack of a presidential primary has opened the door to this year's far more aggressive proposals, capitalizing on the desire of all voters, not just party members, to weigh in on the presidential hopefuls.
The Gazette's telephone survey, conducted Oct. 6-18 by Colorado polling firm Ciruli Associates, asks wide-ranging questions about key political races and ballot issues to be decided in the Nov. 8 election.
Proposition 107, which would re-establish a presidential primary and let unaffiliated voters have a say on either of the two major parties' primary ballots, drew 64 percent support of all those polled in the Gazette survey. Only 25 percent said they were definitely against it - with mail ballots already in voters' hands and less than two weeks to go before Election Day.
Democrats in the polling sample gave the proposal an even more resounding endorsement, with 70 percent saying they supported it, but even a majority of the Republicans in the sample, 54 percent were in favor of it. And 75 percent of the unaffiliated voters surveyed backed the proposal.
The Gazette survey did not ask about the closely related Proposition 108, which would open the current political primaries for other partisan offices in Colorado to unaffiliated voters, as well.
The poll's margin of error is 4 percent.