Friday, September 10, 2010

Colorado’s Independent Voters Are The Battleground

Colorado’s partisan voter registration is currently neck-and-neck in the November elections. The two political parties each attract about one-third of the state’s electorate. Although Republican voters appear to be more enthusiastic in this midterm election, it is the unaffiliated voters, who also claim one-third of the electorate, that the candidates must pull in to win statewide.

In a recent survey, Floyd Ciruli examined the preferences of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters in the 2010 election. Ciruli Associates conducted the statewide survey with 550 likely Colorado voters from August 19 to 23, 2010. The statistical range of error is ±4.2 percentage points.

Unaffiliated voters are ideologically diverse. Colorado voters who have not declared a political party are diverse in their ideological leanings between liberal (25%), moderate (35%) and conservative (35%). Republicans are more homogenously conservative (76%) and Democrats are generally liberal (58%), but 40 percent identify as middle-of-the-road or conservative.
In this election, partisan voter loyalty is weak. Only about one-half of Democratic and Republican partisans claim to be loyal to their registered party when asked. Fifty percent of Republicans claim to be “strong identifiers,” 21 percent are “not strong identifiers” and 18 percent say they are “independent-leaning Republicans.” Two percent are registered Republican, but identify as Democrat.
A similar pattern exists for Democrats, with 46 percent claiming to be strong in loyalty, 16 percent saying they are “not very strong” and 26 percent claiming to be “independent-leaning Democrats.”
Hence, both parties can only depend on the loyalty of one-half of their registered base. The rest are weak or see themselves as more independent than partisan.
Unaffiliated voters split their loyalty between being independents or siding with one of the two parties. Forty-four percent of unaffiliated voters, when asked about partisan preferences, identify as pure independents. Twenty-eight percent identify more with Democrats and 25 percent more with Republicans.

Unaffiliated voters mostly support Hickenlooper. Unaffiliated voters are largely staying away from the Republican and American Constitution Party candidates for governor, with support for Dan Maes (17%) and Tom Tancredo (14%), and giving most of their backing (45%) to John Hickenlooper. These Independents add about 10 points to his support from Democrats and Republicans to give him 44 percent to Maes’ 28 percent and Tancredo’s 14 percent among all voters.

Unaffiliated voters give a small plurality to Bennet.  Michael Bennet, the Democratic appointed U.S. Senator, has lost most polling match-ups with his Republican opponent, Ken Buck. But, in this pre-Labor Day poll, Bennet is winning the crucial unaffiliated vote by 5 percentage points (38% Bennet to 33% Buck).

He is still behind Buck among all voters, by 42 percent to 44 percent. Buck is boosted by winning two percent more cross-over Democratic voters than he loses Republican voters to Bennet. In addition, GOP turnout may be higher, with two percent more Republicans than Democrats saying they are going to vote.

To date, Colorado’s race for senate is a toss-up, and how the unaffiliated voters end up casting their votes will likely decide the outcome.

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