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Politics and Government

Here’s why Colorado’s unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly picked Democrats in 2018. The story starts with Donald Trump.

Four in 10 unaffiliated voters polled by Magellan Strategies said a vote for Democrat Jared Polis in the governor’s race was a statement against President Donald Trump

Republican Walker Stapleton, right, concedes to Democrat Jared Polis on Tuesday night, Nov. 6, 2018. He was flanked by his wife and children. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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The record turnout among Colorado unaffiliated voters — and their negative view of President Donald Trump  — assured disaster for the Republican Party in the midterm election last week, a new poll shows.

Four in 10 unaffiliated voters who voted for Democrat Jared Polis in the governor’s race did so to make statement against Trump and GOP policies. And more broadly, about one third of all unaffiliated voters were less likely to vote for any Republican candidate because of Trump’s influence.

The findings appear in a survey released Thursday by Republican pollster Magellan Strategies that examined the preferences of unaffiliated voters in Colorado as part of a post-mortem examination of the GOP’s “extraordinary” losses.

For the first time in a midterm election, unaffiliated voters in Colorado cast more ballots than either major political party and delivered decisive victories for Democratic candidates, who won all statewide constitutional races and both chambers of the General Assembly — a feat not achieved since 1936.

Unaffiliated voters cast 878,360 ballots as of Tuesday, compared with 849,610 from Democrats and 813,644 from Republicans.

“Time will tell if the 2018 election was an acceleration of the Republican Party’s waning ability to win statewide elections in Colorado, or a sobering period of clarity that sparked a new direction for the GOP,” David Flaherty at Magellan Strategies said.

Either way, he added, “all Colorado Republicans should be worried.”

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Right now, only 23 percent of unaffiliated voters would vote for Trump in 2020, compared with 55 percent who said they would support an unspecified Democratic candidate. Another 17 percent were undecided.

The poll of only unaffiliated voters from the 2018 election was conducted Nov. 7-9. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Jared Polis speaks at the Pro15 candidate debates in Weld County on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (Jacob Paul, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Polis won 59 percent of the unaffiliated voters in the governor’s race, according to the new numbers, compared with 25 percent for Republican Walker Stapleton. The remainder refused to say who they voted for or cast a ballot for someone else.

The figures reflect unaffiliated voters’ underlying opinion of the Republican Party this year. About half reported an unfavorable view of the GOP and only 25 percent had a favorable opinion. Another 20 percent said they were neutral toward the party. The dynamic appeared most strongly among women, who favored the Democratic Party — and Polis — by a 3 to 1 margin.

“It was extraordinary because in the past 20 years never has one political party been so overwhelmingly rejected at every level of representative government by the electorate,” said Flaherty.

Republican Wayne Williams concedes to Democrat Jena Griswold at the Colorado GOP watch party on Tuesday night, Nov. 6, 2018. Republicans lost in every statewide constitutional race last week. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The poll also offered insights into why unaffiliated voters sided with the Democrat at the top of the ticket.

The top issues for the voters in an open-ended question were health care, education and the environment — the same ones that led them to support Polis.

The concerns identified about Polis matched Republican talking points — that he would raise taxes and increase government spending. For instance, 36 percent of those polled said their vote for Stapleton was really a vote against Polis, rather than a vote for the Republican candidate.

Unaffiliated voters told the pollsters that they liked Stapleton’s business focus, but had an impression that he was “untrustworthy” or “dishonest” and he appeared to be more focused on immigration than education and health care — all Democratic attack lines.

Other numbers the survey found:

  • Only 32 percent of unaffiliated voters watched a gubernatorial debate in 2018.
  • About two-thirds of unaffiliated voters have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the Colorado media, compared to one-third who have “not very much” or “none at all.”
  • Three in 10 unaffiliated voters say the best way for a campaign to reach them is through a digital ad on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or internet radio, compared with 22 percent who said a TV commercial.

Updated 10 a.m. Nov. 15, 2018: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of voters who said they cast ballots for Democrat Jared Polis as a reaction to President Donald Trump.


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