Another Look at Colorado Voter Stats

Two weeks ago I did a preliminary assessment of Colorado voters, trying to assess the impact of the state's evangelical voters. I began with the 2004 presidential results. There were 2.1 million voters and Bush won by 100,000 votes. We have 9 electoral votes.

The Colorado Secretary of State has these voter registration numbers (pdf) by county, current as of September 2. There are 3 million registered voters in the state.

Denver has the largest number, 390k. Jefferson County (Golden, Coors country) now has more than El Paso (Colorado Springs.) Jeffco has 352k to El Paso's 347k. The counties with the most registered voters after the top three are: Arapahoe (very suburban) with 319k, Boulder and Adams with 205k each, followed by Larimer (Northern Colorado) with 200k, and Douglas (just north of Colorado Springs and equally as conservative)with 172k.

Here's where it gets tricky: There are huge numbers of unaffiliated voters.

  • Dems 955k
  • Republicans 1029k
  • Unaffiliated 1022k

In the largest counties, the numbers are:

  • Denver 182k Dem, 71k Rep., 135k Unaffil.
  • El Paso 75kD, 158kR, 113kU
  • Jefferson 110kD, 124kR, 117kU,
  • Arapaahoe: 105kD, 110kR, 103U
  • Boulder 83kD, 42kR, 78kU
  • Adams 73kD, 55kR, 76kU
  • Larimer 55kD, 72kR,71kU
  • Douglas 36kD, 84R, 52kU

In addition to reaching out to unaffiliated voters, Team Obama is making a huge push to register new voters and get out the vote.

Take Aspen, in Pitkin County, which has almost 13,000 voters, 5,600 of whom are unaffiliated. 4,200 are Dems and 2,600 are Republicans. The Aspen Daily News reports today:

The overwhelmingly Democratic-voting Pitkin County — where Democratic candidate John Kerry received more than twice as many votes as President George W. Bush in 2004 — is being targeted as a voting sector that can put Obama over the top for Colorado’s nine electoral votes. Because any vote from this area is most likely a vote for Obama, his local boosters are focused primarily on registering as many locals as they can.

“One of the fallacies about Pitkin County is that people don’t need to go vote for a Democrat because everybody is voting for them anyway,” said Blanca O’Leary, co-chair of the county’s Democratic party. “What we need to do is make sure Pitkin County over-performs.”

The strategy worked in a local race in 2006:

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, an Obama supporter, cited the 2006 election of state Sen. Gail Schwartz as proof that this supercharged Pitkin County strategy works. In that contest, Schwartz pulled 82 percent of the Pitkin County vote after a similar local voter registration push. Ireland said the Pitkin County vote overrode more conservative sections of the district and propelled Schwartz’s narrow victory over Republican incumbent Lewis Entz. “We totally outweighed Delta County,” Ireland said.

As to the effort being expended:

These local Obama volunteers have been hitting the streets twice every week, on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, usually with a team of eight to a dozen. A smaller squad in Basalt does the same.

This weekend, Colorado Obama volunteers were matched up in a contest with those in Virginia in which the canvasser from those two states who knocks on the most doors gets to meet the candidate himself.

Nor is Obama overlooking the redder portions of the Western Slope:

Last week also saw Obama’s top adviser on veterans’ issues holding a forum in Grand Junction, Sen. Ken Salazar telling Colorado reporters in a conference call that Obama “as president will stand up for rural Colorado,” and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson touring Colorado addressing concerns of Latino voters and registering people to vote.

Obama is also pushing early voting which begins October 20 in Colorado.

[L]ocal Obama supporters are taking over Paepcke Park on Oct. 19 to push a less traditional campaign strategy: encouraging early voting..... They are worried that this year’s extra-long ballot in Pitkin County will cause extra-long lines at voting booths that might turn some people away on Election Day. Between local, state and national items, the ballot here is expected to have more than 30 questions and contests for voters to decide.

Obama has 32 campaign offices in Colorado. Nationally, he has 330 offices to McCain's 100.

Obama’s 50-state web of local offices is fueled by what is believed to be the largest field operation in American political history. And even veteran politicos are taken aback by the magnitude of his standing volunteer army.

“This is the best organized campaign I’ve seen,” said [Blanca]O’Leary, the county Democratic co-chair. “And I’ve been doing this forever.”

So, can Obama's get out the vote effort generate enough new voters to cancel out the smaller, largely Republican counties? And is there any way to predict which way the unaffiliated voters in the big counties will go?

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  • Display: Sort:
    People have been out (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Jjc2008 on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:57:15 PM EST
    registering voters here in conservative El Paso county.  However, this county can be deceiving on the national level.  And the kids at Colorado College are very hyped and active this year.  

    I was walking today and I saw this sign on the yard of a person I would have guessed to be republican:  This old white woman is voting for Obama.

    Of the seven houses on my block (on my side), six for sure are going Obama.  And of course the area near the college and downtown is mostly democratic but for the first time in my 30+ years here, the democratic party is really active.

    I think Obama can win Colorado.

    I think he will win... (none / 0) (#22)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:17:34 PM EST
    ...the Centennial State.  

    There's been a buzz around about "the ground game" for awhile now and most people seem to be amazed.

    Heck, while I'm at it, I say that Musgrave goes down to Markey this year.


    Likely, but not a certainty (none / 0) (#40)
    by MaBJ on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 04:29:28 AM EST
    Primarily due to the district she represents. It is extremely conservative and they love her there. She's "one of them" (born and raised) and that has lots of street cred in this district. She's in a tough fight - more than she has been in a number of years. It could also hurt her that Wayne Allard (her bff) isn't around anymore and thus not campaigning for her this year, as he has done in the past. Their ideologies are about as close as can be without being related, so...this might actually be her death knell!

    Good research (none / 0) (#1)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:34:40 PM EST
    Evangelicals are never as important as we tend to think that they will be.  On the ground democrat organization seems to always be more important.  Our voter drives this year have been fantastic.  Racism won't matter as much as we may fear either.  Most of those jerks don't even vote.

    I find one sentence in this comment. . . (none / 0) (#2)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:38:36 PM EST
    to have the ring of truth.  Anyone care to guess which I think it is?

    Maybe someone in the Republic party knows (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:39:50 PM EST
    The penultimate one? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Cream City on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:42:09 PM EST
    I always like an excuse to use the term "penultimate." :-)

    No. . . (none / 0) (#7)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:52:42 PM EST
    the modal one.

    Penultimate... (none / 0) (#14)
    by CoralGables on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:00:00 PM EST
    is one those words that is wonderful to use unless you are running the penultimate lap in a mile race. Then it's a gut wrenching word :)

    To answer the question though, I would lean towards "Our voter drives this year have been fantastic."


    Come down south. The majority of the (none / 0) (#15)
    by Teresa on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:01:34 PM EST
    people I know still say Democrat Party. My mom moved to a little county a few years ago. She joined the "Women's Democrat Party". That was their official name. :)

    I try to cut them some slack because they vote the right way.


    I completely missed. .. (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:04:19 PM EST
    the use of the term "Democrat" until andgarden pointed it out below.  I just think the statements are absurd.  I'm happy to have the votes of the Women's Democrat Party.

    Me too. When I hear it, I immediately think (none / 0) (#19)
    by Teresa on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:07:44 PM EST
    it's either a mean Republican or a southern Democrat.

    Guilty as charged! (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:32:27 PM EST
    My whole fam-damily have been southern democrats for at least 100 years.  I apologize if I offended anyone but we always called it the democrat party.  I keep forgetting that you all don't do that anymore. Sorry!  

    Polls, polls, polls (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:42:05 PM EST
    make the pundits--and me--go round. There's supposed to be at least one for CO tomorrow.

    It is possible to fundamentally change the demographic nature of the voting electorate, but I would hate to have to stake my chances on that. And anyway I'm doubtful that it's really so simple in a Presidential election.

    We'll know before Christmas. . .

    My summary of the polls. . . (none / 0) (#9)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:54:18 PM EST
    all the important states are too close to call, with both Obama and McCain floating between 44 and 49 percent.  Trendlines, at the moment, looking excellent, however.

    Thinks look better if you exclude Rasmussen (none / 0) (#12)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:58:18 PM EST
    but I can find faults with lots of polls, so I don't exclude Ras.

    Virginia is insurance for Pennsylvania--though not very good insurance--and Colorado is the critical state. I also worry about New Hampshire.


    Now, now. . . (none / 0) (#18)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:06:43 PM EST
    they always look better when you exclude the ones that don't look so hot!

    You're probably not old enough to remember the 2004 election, but I think Rasmussen showed better than average numbers for Kerry right up to the election.


    hehe (none / 0) (#20)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:16:31 PM EST
    The main reason Kerry looked like he might pull it out was the insidious Zogby, whom I will never trust again. ARG is on the don't trust list too.

    But yeah, cherry picking polls is bad practice.


    Remember how he updated all during (none / 0) (#23)
    by Teresa on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:19:06 PM EST
    election day? I showed my Republican boss before leaving work that day, positive that Kerry had won. It was awful going to work the next day.

    I also remember Kerry's daughter being on TV unable to contain her smile. She thought he had won. I don't know what polls they were watching but I know she believed it.


    Yup, the early exits were bad again (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:23:56 PM EST
    but Zogby was the real problem as far as public polls were concerned.

    And actually, I remember polls back to 2000 (none / 0) (#21)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:17:20 PM EST
    And you know whose trajectory Obama's trend reminds me of most? W.

    On the whole. . . (none / 0) (#25)
    by LarryInNYC on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:31:56 PM EST
    that hasn't been such a great trajectory, notwithstanding that it did the trick in 2000.

    That's my point (none / 0) (#27)
    by andgarden on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:33:44 PM EST
    I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that Obama loses the popular vote and wins anyway. Same for McCain.

    And yeah, I think this is going to be a close election.


    actually, me too. (none / 0) (#28)
    by coigue on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:38:19 PM EST
    because in 2004 the pervading concern was foregin policy = good for the GOP.

    As the stronger candidate, Kerry got bumps during the debates, but they always went back down because the pervasive issue favored the GOP (God knows WHY, after all that's happened).

    This year, the pervasive issue is a Dem one. So even if Obama is not strong in the debates, McCain will get shortterm bumps at best.

    As long as the economy remains the issue, this is my prediction...and if Obama does better than expected in the debates, we may see some really comforting numbers.

    (Man, I said I wasn't going to get my hopes up)


    Yes, we should win with the economy issue (none / 0) (#32)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:45:02 PM EST
    Provided that Obama has a plan, one that is clear, and popular with voters.  He needs to come on strong with that.  Show leadership.  

    He did (none / 0) (#34)
    by coigue on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:51:18 PM EST
    already. Did you miss it?

    actually, he should have a plan (none / 0) (#36)
    by coigue on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:54:17 PM EST
    but I don't actually think he needs one.

    Think Bush in 2004. No plan. Ran against a friggen war hero with a great plan.

    It's the BRAND that seems to win the election, sadly, and if the BRAND fits the climate, you win.


    Don't. Cheney's still in charge (none / 0) (#33)
    by Cream City on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:47:01 PM EST
    of the well-time foreign policy surprise somewhere.

    thanks for the pull-down (none / 0) (#35)
    by coigue on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:52:03 PM EST
    I don't want to have the same let-down as 2004

    I kinda have the same (none / 0) (#38)
    by Amiss on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 01:51:49 AM EST
    feeling. That they are gonna pull something out in Georgia, or perhaps Pakistan. Wouldn't surprise me one bit.

    Teaser for tomorrow's poll (none / 0) (#17)
    by magster on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:05:45 PM EST
    Palin's favorables sunk like a stone.

    Doesn't matter (none / 0) (#30)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:42:38 PM EST
    People vote on the top of the ticket.  Palin has the republican base all fired up, but the rest of the voters won't care.  

    ya (none / 0) (#37)
    by connecticut yankee on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:57:54 PM EST
    This probably explains today's story that Palin is trying to work out a deal to coooperate with Troopergate.  Her numbers are tanking so they need a new strategy for her.

    But you don't get two first impressions.


    I thought.... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Punchy on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:42:49 PM EST
    .....I read a bunch of breathless diaries at Kos about how "McCain lost Colorado!", etc. when he broached the subject of water rights.

    Why has that not been made into a commercial and played on a endless loop?

    Skip registering new voters -- (none / 0) (#8)
    by Cream City on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 08:52:52 PM EST
    when almost a third of your voters didn't turn out, nine times what was needed to turn the state blue last time!  Wow, I didn't realize quite how ambitious it is to try to turn Colorado blue, with a 100,000 vote difference last time.

    There ought to be a similar level of effort here in the closest state last time, with a difference of only 11,401 votes that could have turned us red.  And I just don't see that much going on here in Wisconsin.  I went by the Obama office downtown the other day in the largest city, too, and there were no posters in the windows.  Just blank.  I also see few yard signs and cannot recall bumper stickers here.  By this point last time, we already were through several stolen Kerry signs.:-)  So I was down at that office often to pick up new ones, and it always was busy.  

    Maybe this city is a lock, since it's a majority-minority city, and the effort is elsewhere -- as have been visits by both Obamas.  But if every vote counts, then here they also ought to be GOTVing for votes that would go for Obama.  Or maybe the lesser effort here so far is why he's taking workers from SD and sending them this way.

    Yes, Minnesota #1 and Wisconsin #2 (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Cream City on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:45:01 PM EST
    in youth turnout last election, as I recall -- and I think I recall it well, because I was pushing my students hard (if ever, as always, in a very nonpartisan way:-).  

    The really huge turnout in Wisconsin, though, long has been women, especially older women.  We've come in first in the country in that sometimes, I saw.  And I was raised on that, believe me -- always taken to the polls with my mom, a tradition I continued with my daughter.  We still plan our election days to vote together.

    It could be in part because we also long have had one of the highest percentages of working women --although for well below-the-national norm pay.

    Those all are reasons why the weather matters -- this being the state where, as Leonard Cohen sang about one of our maritime tragedies here, "the gales of November remember."  Turnout of women can be lower if the weather complicates life, when their lives already are complicated by long work hours at low pay, and it's even worse now.  


    Unfortunately, (none / 0) (#29)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Sep 22, 2008 at 09:40:49 PM EST
    Republicans in Virginia have a HUGE early voting drive going on.  They've been pushing it for weeks, calling on the phone over and over.  Same for absentee voting.  They're sending stuff to the college students.  I hear that the girls at Tech are really fired up for Palin and pushing early voting when they come home for October break.  I wouldn't be surprised to see half the state vote early or by absentee.   Honestly, I think it will be good for Obama to get lots of votes in Virginia before the debates begin this week.  

    Here are some thoughts on your post (none / 0) (#39)
    by MaBJ on Tue Sep 23, 2008 at 03:56:03 AM EST
    As somebody who knows Colorado (its people, its heart/soul, its voters/voting patterns), and as a 4th generation Coloradan, here are some thoughts in reply to specific points in your post and an answer to your final question.

    1. On Pitken/Delta Counties and Entz:

    The strategy worked in a local race in 2006:

    Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, an Obama supporter, cited the 2006 election of state Sen. Gail Schwartz as proof that this supercharged Pitkin County strategy works. In that contest, Schwartz pulled 82 percent of the Pitkin County vote after a similar local voter registration push. Ireland said the Pitkin County vote overrode more conservative sections of the district and propelled Schwartz's narrow victory over Republican incumbent Lewis Entz. "We totally outweighed Delta County," Ireland said.

    Lewis Entz was already fading in 2006, due in part to Ken Salazar's Democratic surge in 2004 and his popularity and influence around the state, but also due to matters unrelated to GOTV efforts (Entz's opposition to rural projects in South-Central Colorado, his missteps on serious water issues, and missteps on C&TSR appropriations, for example). He was also too closely tied to previous Republican cronies in South-Central, South-Western Colorado, and was seen generally as more of a problem than a solution.

    2. On Western Slope voters

    Ken Salazar earned respect among Western Slope Republicans for his advocacy on behalf of veterans issues, general rural issues, and water issues (specifically), and for his no-nonsense, practical approach to problem-solving as a U.S. Senator. He was also highly respected as Colorado's AG, which has given him lots of street cred with Western Slope Republicans. Additionally, Salazar has rural roots and is a fifth-generation Coloradan ag producer - again, giving him street cred with these Republicans.

    The Western Slope, even among so-called unaffiliated voters, is really unlikely to turn blue - even if Obama invests $$$, time, GOTV, moving unaffiliated into Dem column. It's a simple, generations old Western Slope mentality: they may have a booming city in Grand Junction and the area may be in flux, but they retain centuries-old rural, ag producing, pioneering, pragmatic mindsets and simplicity that can be summed up as this: the fewer words one uses as a politician, the better; you'd better "show me" and not talk something to death.

    Obama doesn't come anywhere near meeting that threshhold, even with Ken Salazar's enthusiastic support. It was said for years and years among politicians that if you didn't understand and "get" the Western Slope, you didn't win, period. This still holds true.

    And the same is true for the Eastern Plains and most of Northern/Northeastern Colorado. Keep in mind: Colorado is 80-85% rural, even though Denver/CSprings may break approximately even in the number of people.

    3. So, can Obama's get out the vote effort generate enough new voters to cancel out the smaller, largely Republican counties? And is there any way to predict which way the unaffiliated voters in the big counties will go?

    There are two interconnected parts to this answer.

    First, The simple answer to first part of your question is No. Even though on paper there are large numbers of unaffiliated voters across the state, in practice this is nothing new. Colorado has always been quirky this way - more so than other parts of the country. It is one measure of being "conservative" in the broadest sense of the definition (conserving energy, speech, thought, judgment, etc.).

    The second part of this has to do with Colorado's libertarian streak, which influences voting registration/parties/patterns. And Coloradans tends to be more conservative-libertarian than liberal-libertarian.

    Second, from the voter registration numbers you provided, I've done some back-of-the-napkin calculations to incorporate Indie voters. Taken as a whole, these numbers aren't good for Democrats, except perhaps in Boulder and Adams Counties. Republicans still outnumber Dems across the board (no surprise here). What is really worrisome are the Indie voters and where they are likely to fall given voter registration percentages/patterns. If you use a very simple proportional calculation that puts Indies into respective R + D columns (other than Boulder and Adams), Indies are going to break squarely for Republicans.  

    -- El Paso: 158,000 (68%) Republican + 76,000 (68%) Independents = 234,000 votes Republican;
    -- Jefferson: 124,000 (53%) R + 62,000 (53%) I = 186,000 votes R;

    -- Arapahoe: 110,000 (51%) R + 53,000 (51%) I = 163,000 votes R; *

    -- Adams: 55,000 (43%) R + 33,000 (43%) I = 88,000 votes R;
    -- Larimer: 72,000 (57%) R + 40,000 (57%) I = 112,000 votes R;

    -- Douglas: 84,000 (70%) R + 37,000 (70%) I = 121,000 votes R; *

    Keep in mind that counties bordering and surrounding Adams County (Weld, Morgan, Logan) - have nearly 2:1 registered Republicans and will cancel out Adams and Boulder Dem voters, even without Indies. If Indies are included in proportion to the party registration numbers, again they will swing strongly Republican.

    If environmental issues play a role in Colorado's ballot propositions (like they did in 2004), Indies may break more evenly for Democrats because the environment is one of the things that motivates Indies and Democrats (and some Republicans in the state, albeit for different reasons and in different ways).

    Here are the caveats:

    #1: In spite of Douglas County's strong Republican v.r. numbers, my gut tells me that Douglas County may go Democratic this year. Even though Douglas Co. is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, most of these folks are upscale based on what was 5 years ago. They bought homes with the same ARMs that have reset, will reset, have seen their salaries peak and remain stagnant, but now have families/responsibilities they can't afford. They - even more than others in Colorado - are worth any mining effort the Obama campaign can engage in, because they're primed big time for change.

    #2: Arapahoe County, I think, will also go Democratic this year. Arapahoe has been undergoing a quiet transformation over the last 10 or so years, from a true burb to something akin to a mini-Denver. It's not as upscale as Douglas, but likes to think of itself as a progressive community and has a big percentage of area businesses, from health care to insurance to finance + small, homegrown businesses.

    #3: I don't honestly know what impact the "personhood" amendment will have on which way Indies go but instinct, history, experience with Colorado tells me that if Indies come out in force this year it will be bad for this amendment and could prove a real boon to Democrats, simply as an F.U. to evangelical Christians in the state. Remember: Coloradans have a libertarian streak.

    Whew! I honestly didn't mean to write this much, but this particular topic of discussion is one that always animates me, from personal and political experience in the state.

    Thanks for reading!!