CIRULI: Millennials are moving Colorado to the left

Author: Floyd Ciruli - October 18, 2017 - Updated: October 18, 2017

Floyd Ciruli

Although Colorado remains competitive between the two main political parties, with candidates representing both parties winning statewide races and splitting control of the state legislature, the state has, in fact, moved at least two points to the Democratic side of the scale since 2006. This is most clearly shown in terms of registration and voter behavior in presidential elections. Republicans have lost their registration advantage. Voters not affiliated with a party are now the largest political group in the state, and polling shows that they skew younger and somewhat more liberal and Democratic. The presidential races since 1996 offer evidence that Colorado has shifted to the Democratic side with Barack Obama’s elections, and has remained in that camp through Hillary Clinton’s win in the state during the 2016 presidential election.

One reason for the shift is that voters under 35 years old are flooding the voter rolls nationally and, when motivated to vote, are changing the politics of the country and Colorado.

Millennials have now overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest population cohort, and as they register and turn out to vote, they will become the dominant voting bloc by the 2020 presidential election. In 2016 presidential election polls conducted by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver’s Korbel School, Colorado’s Millennials distinguished themselves with a number of characteristics:

  • Millennials are more liberal. In terms of ideology, Millennials are more likely to categorize themselves as liberals (41% compared to Colorado average 34%) than other age cohorts. One-fifth (21%) say they are very liberal (15% very liberal statewide) and only 7 percent describe themselves as very conservative (18% very conservative statewide). In Colorado, Millennials are primarily divided among Democrats (40%) and independents (33%), with fewer Republicans (23%).
  • Continued support for marijuana. Support for marijuana use continues among Millennials. They were a key constituency in its passage in 2012. Now, they represent the age demographic in the state most supportive of expanded recreational use (49% support). All other age cohorts strongly oppose expanded use, ranging from 52 percent opposed by 35 to 49 year olds, to 60 percent of Colorado voters 50 years old and older opposed to expanded use.


  • More support for government health care. The 2016 Colorado ballot had a $25 billion version of Bernie Sanders’s health care plan, which went down to defeat 82% to 18%. Polling showed it losing, but of the Millennials polled, only 54 percent opposed it, while 38 percent were in favor – a 12-point difference in favorability compared to the 66 percent opposed and 26 percent in favor in a statewide poll.
  • Preferred Clinton and Senator Bennet. Clinton won the polling by 2 percentage points, but carried Colorado Millennials by 19 points against Donald Trump (she won in Colorado by 5 points one week after the poll). Millennials stayed in the Democratic fold and voted for Senator Michael Bennet in his re-election by 28 points, three times the 7 points he won by.
  • Millennials are new to the state and highly optimistic about its direction. Colorado has been one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., and residents under 35 years old make up 52 percent of those who have been in the state five years or less. While more than half the population (56%) believes Colorado is moving in the right direction, more than two-thirds (68%) of Millennials subscribe to the state’s positive direction.
  • Reached by cell phones. Eighty-five percent of Millennials were reached in this poll by cell phones, whereas only 26 percent of voters over 65 years old and 53 percent of the sample overall were reached by cell phone.
  • More likely to be minorities. Nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s Millennials are Hispanic compared to 16 percent among ages 35-40, 11 percent among ages 50-64, and 3 percent age 65 and over.

The next political battle in Colorado will be to replace Governor Hickenlooper. The contours of the race have mostly formed. Any advantage Democrats have will depend on motivating Millennials, both among Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

The survey, sponsored by the University of Denver/Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, which is part of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, interviewed 550 likely Colorado voters. It was in field from October 29-31, 2016. Overall, the survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The margin of error for subgroups is larger.

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli

Floyd Ciruli is a veteran pollster and noted political analyst based in Denver. He is the director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies and is an adjunct professor teaching public opinion and foreign policy. Read Ciruli's blog at www.fciruli.blogspot.com