A new Gazette poll shows Donald Trump dominating Hillary Clinton among El Paso County voters even as other recent surveys have the blunt-talking billionaire trailing the former first lady among voters statewide.
Despite a campaign that has courted controversy almost from the start and weathered a rash of allegations about Trump's behavior toward women, the survey finds the Republican New York real estate mogul leading Democrat Clinton 50 percent to 32 percent in El Paso County in a two-way race. Trump bests Clinton 47 percent to 30 percent when Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party contender Jill Stein, among others, are included in the mix.
The telephone survey of 600 likely El Paso County voters points to similarly overwhelming support for Republican El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn in his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Glenn leads 51 percent to 35 percent in the county.
Yet, the wide-ranging survey, conducted for The Gazette Oct. 6-18 by Colorado polling firm Ciruli Associates, also reveals sentiments on some pending statewide ballot issues that seem to challenge the community's image as a conventionally conservative stronghold. Proposition 106 on the Nov. 8 ballot - what backers are calling end-of-life options, and critics say is physician-assisted suicide - gets support of 53 percent of those polled in the face of staunch opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious denominations, as well as from right-to-life groups. The poll's margin of error is 4 percent.
And those surveyed split almost evenly on Amendment 70, which would raise Colorado's mandated minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, even though it is heavily backed by organized labor and leading Democratic political candidates. Among all respondents county-wide, 46 percent supported the measure while 47 percent opposed it, with the rest undecided. Within Colorado Springs, 47 percent favored it over 45 percent in opposition.
"They do not apply ideology to it as they do to other issues," veteran pollster Floyd Ciruli, the survey's author, said of the contrarian chemistry behind support for the minimum wage hike.
The survey respondents seemed to return to the fold, however, when asked about yet another proposal on the ballot - as well as an issue not even in play this election cycle. They gave a decided thumbs-down - 69 percent to 16 percent, with the rest undecided - on a proposal to create a state government-run "single-payer" system of health-care coverage that would replace private health plans and raise taxes $25 billion a year.
They also resoundingly answered "no," by a 2-to-1 margin, when asked whether "recreational marijuana sales should be expanded in Colorado Springs," which currently bans such sales. No marijuana-related proposals are on the county or state ballot.
Underlying the strong numbers for Trump are some deep misgivings among some voters about the candidate himself - judging by the comments of some survey respondents who agreed to speak with The Gazette about their views.
"I don't like Trump. He's an idiot, a bonehead, and he's going to embarrass us like crazy," said Tim Risner, a 61-year-old military retiree from Monument, who said he nevertheless will cast his ballot for the Republican nominee.
"But I do believe he is going to stop the illegal immigrants . I'm OK with a little embarrassment," said Risner, who described himself as a "conservative Republican diehard." Risner also said he cast his vote as a "protest vote . against Hillary."
"I believe she's a pathological liar who'll say and do anything to get elected," he said. "I'm just a guy wishing I had someone actually to support instead of just voting against someone."
Survey respondent Amanda Schroeder expressed the same disaffections for both candidates, but in her case it inspired her to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is a former New Mexico governor.
Of Clinton and Trump, Schroeder observed, "You've got one that's flat-out criminal, and you've got one that's a childish, childish man. I've actually seen fifth-graders behave better."
Schroeder, a 40-year-old who describes herself as "pro-choice, pro-gun," said a third-party candidate was the only way for her: "I don't fit into either mold of the Republicans or Democrats."
Not surprisingly, a Hillary Clinton supporter among the respondents shared the others' aversion to Trump. Sarah Webb, a 39-year-old high school teacher who has lived in Colorado Springs for five years, said the Trump candidacy sends the worst possible message to the next generation.
"To have someone with so little character as Trump ... achieve the highest position in the country would make it hard for me to speak about the importance of character and integrity and hold my students to standards to which he does not hold himself accountable," Webb said.
Much closer to home, the sample of county voters also was asked to name what they think is "the most important issue for the El Paso (County) area community to deal with in the next few years." By far and away the No. 1 response - accounting for 35 percent of all those surveyed - was traffic congestion and roads.
"The roads are terrible," said Schroeder. "They don't have the money to fix the pothole problem that they have." She added that growth in general - listed as the No. 1 local issue by 9 percent of the survey respondents - frustrates her.
"We allow for growth and plan for it later," she said.
Plenty of perennial hot-button issues appear to have cooled in The Gazette's polling. Those who mentioned health-care coverage and prescription drugs as the most important concern? 2 percent. Illegal immigration and immigration reform? 2 percent. Homelessness? 6 percent. Gun control? 1 percent. Crime and gangs? 7 percent. Affordable housing? 2 percent. Even public schools and education issues, reliably front-and-center among parent voters, garnered a mere 8 percent.
Survey findings regarding marijuana, whose recreational use was legalized by the state's voters in 2012, were another matter. Although only 3 percent of respondents cited marijuana sales and consumption as the most pressing issue confronting El Paso County, and 4 percent cited marijuana use, the separate survey question focused specifically on pot drew a very different reaction.
Sidestepping political philosophy altogether, those polled also supported November ballot issues opening party primary elections to unaffiliated voters - one-third of all registered voters in the state - and re-establishing a presidential primary election.
By a 3-to-1 margin, those surveyed said they would vote for a constitutional amendment making it harder to amend the state constitution. The campaign for Amendment 71, which 65 percent of respondents said they support, has strong political and financial backing from Colorado's most prominent business groups as well as leading luminaries in the state Republican Party.
"It is the Republican establishment that is helping pass this," Ciruli said, "and Democrats are more ambivalent."