As Election Day 2018 in Colorado has finally arrived, it’s looking like the state’s Democrats will have plenty to celebrate.
A pair of Colorado-based pollsters — one Republican, one Democrat — say a raft of data, from their own surveys to voter registration trends, are pointing toward a political realignment under way that could knock Colorado from the swing-state status it’s enjoyed to a reliably Democratic state.
By the time the 2020 election gears up, the pollsters say, expect a barn-burner of a race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Cory Gardner — but don’t be surprised if Colorado no longer ranks among battleground states in the presidential contest.
Before the end of the next decade, Colorado’s purple tinge could be nothing more than a memory.
The numbers tell the story.
Polls since June have found Democrat Jared Polis with a lead over Republican Walker Stapleton in the race for governor.
Early voting numbers indicated Republicans didn't turn in ballots like they did in the last midterm election in 2014, while Democrats and unaffiliated voters — who favor Democrats by a decent margin, according to the same polls — stepped up their pace considerably.
What’s more, voter registration figures released last week by the Colorado secretary of state’s office show Democrats increasing their lead over Republicans, with nearly 50,000 more active voters than the GOP, up from a lead of around 40,000 a month earlier.
The same report showed unaffiliated voters — who tend to be younger and more progressive than other voters — continued to hold the largest share, outnumbering Democrats by around 250,000 and Republicans by even more.
Taken together, say David Flaherty of Republican firm Magellan Strategies and Chris Keating of Democratic firm Keating Research, the state appears to be headed one way, though the question remains how fast it’s changing.
Flaherty cautioned that voter turnout in the final few days could lead him to tweak his conclusion, but stressed that the state’s direction is clear.
“These trends are probably going to continue, where Republicans make up less of the vote, and those unaffiliated voters are not going to be attracted to Republican messaging and Republicans in general,” he said.
Pointing to statewide polling Magellan conducted since mid-September — one survey jointly with Keating — Flaherty said there’s no question President Donald Trump had cost Colorado Republicans measurable support.
“I could agree that Colorado is no longer a battleground state if those trends continue,” Flaherty said. “Without question. It’s going to be a tough environment in the next election for Cory to hold his seat, but Trump’s approval is in the low 30s among unaffiliated voters. They’re going to continue to be the largest share in Colorado, and they’re growing. They’re repelled by Trump.”
Keating said his polling has found the same thing, and it doesn’t bode well for the GOP.
“This election is a referendum on Trump,” he said. “Trump knows that. The Republicans are probably seeing the same thing we’re seeing. The Republican base is not crazy about voting.”
That’s a problem in a state Trump lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points, but the problem looms larger when taking Colorado’s growing population into account.
“Look at suburban voters,” Keating said, pointing to a statewide survey his firm released last seek. In Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, he noted, 67 percent of respondents viewed Trump unfavorably, and 63 percent viewed the president very unfavorably.
“This is the reality that we’re seeing here in Colorado,” Keating said.
Flaherty reiterated that the makeup of this year’s vote won’t be clear until after the election.
“You really need to reserve that theory until we see on Nov. 7 what the vote was by party,” he said. “But in 2018, it’s starting to look like, numerically, no matter what you say or do as a Republican candidate, we don’t have the numbers to compete. That appears to be the real story this year. It’s finally come home to roost. We don’t have the numbers to compete even in a non-presidential year.”
It isn’t just Trump, Flaherty said. In particular, he said, unaffiliated voters increasingly view some core Republican positions as wildly out of the mainstream.
“Of the issues that are out there, you get the feeling we’re not on the right side of a lot of where a majority of voters think, or how they view problems,” he said. “That’s true with climate change and, in Colorado, something as basic as protecting the environment. If you are a Republican, you need to prove to those unaffiliated voters you are pro-environment by having strong positions, not just by mouthing the words.”
It’s the same on the Second Amendment, a core GOP issue, Flaherty said.
“The whole motivation of standing with the Second Amendment — that doesn’t hit home with unaffiliated voters,” he said, noting that unaffiliated voters don’t understand Republican opposition to so-called red-flag bills, which would allow a judge to remove firearms temporarily from someone found to be a risk to him or herself or others. “Republicans are never going to give up that issue.”
There’s a bright side, though, Flaherty added.
“They’re with Republicans on taxes, on spending. Those are the issues Republican candidates tend to be on the right side,” he said. “’You guys don’t need more money, you need to spend it more wisely.’ That’s where we have a good standing, but younger and unaffiliated voters don’t prioritize those issues the same as older partisans. Some of these others are deal-breakers for them.”
There will be no shortage of explanations after the votes are tabulated on Tuesday, but Flaherty said he hopes Republicans don’t just blame this year’s political climate.
“Now that we have the ground shifting underneath our feet simply because there’s not as many Republicans, Republicans could find themselves out on a lonely, permanent minority island,” he said.