Monday, April 11, 2011

Colorado’s Politics Will Continue to be Closely Fought

The 2010 census affirms the long-term growth trends that have shaped Colorado’s policy and politics since the 1970s. The Front Range counties dominate the state’s population (82%), with the Denver metro area maintaining its position as the state’s population hub (55% of state’s population). Counties with land and growth-friendly policies are the last decade’s biggest gainers (Douglas, El Paso and Weld counties).

The latest census data also makes clear that Colorado’s competitive politics will continue. The 2010 U.S. Senate race, decided by less than 30,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast, is displayed in the chart below with 2010 census results and the percentage of unaffiliated active voters in Colorado’s Front Range counties.

• The bulk of state voters are concentrated from the Wyoming border through the Pueblo-Huerfano county line (82% of state’s voters). The remaining voters are on the High Plains (3%) and 15 percent are on the Western Slope.

• The GOP’s best large Front Range counties of Douglas, El Paso and Weld grew above the state average of 17 percent. The three of them account for nearly 40 percent of the state’s 10-year population increase.

• The Democrats’ best counties of Boulder, Denver and Pueblo grew the slowest along the Front Range – only 1 percent in Boulder, 8 percent in Denver and 12 percent in Pueblo. Much of Pueblo’s growth has been in Pueblo West, an area more prone to vote Republican.

• The most competitive large counties that gave Michael Bennet a close victory in 2010 were Arapahoe, Jefferson and Larimer, each of which had been dependably Republican 20 years ago and are now reliably swing counties that will support popular statewide Democratic candidates. Arapahoe’s swing to battleground status is explained by the growth of Aurora. The city now has a majority of non-white residents.

Jefferson County’s growth stopped abruptly in the late 1990s. Lakewood and Wheat Ridge are becoming cities with higher proportions of older populations. Much of the county’s new growth has been Hispanic voters along the Denver/Jefferson county line.

Larimer County is closely balanced with moderate Republican and conservative groups, mainly outside of Fort Collins, balanced with environmentally active new residents augmented with liberal CSU students and staff.

• More than a quarter (27%) of active voters are unaffiliated. These were voters that turned out in the 2010 election. When inactive voters are added to the voter base, a third (34%) of voters are independent because inactive voters (i.e., not voting in 2010) tend to be more unaffiliated (40%). Even with reduced numbers of active voters, unaffiliated voters are the second largest voter bloc in Boulder, Denver, Douglas, El Paso and Weld.

• Republicans lost the highly competitive U.S. Senate race in spite of having turned out 108,000 more registered Republican voters than Democrats in 2010 (731,000 to 623,000). They lost many moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters that might have voted for them given the good Republican year.

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