Opinion

NOONAN | Unaffiliated voters are on a roll in Colorado

Author: Paula Noonan - August 23, 2018 - Updated: August 22, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Between 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president and 2010, during the Great Recession and the Tea Party Revolution, the Democratic Party lost 219,111 active voter registrations in Colorado and active voters declined from 76 percent in 2008 to 56 percent in 2010.

In 2010, Republicans were at a peak, with 39 percent of active registered voters to 34 percent for Democrats and 27 percent for Unaffiliateds.  Since then, it’s been a downhill ride for both parties, but with Republicans on a black slope and Democrats on a green.  Active voters, on the other hand, have taken a big swing up to 87 percent in 2016.

It looks like 2014 was a pivotal year in how voters responded to the parties.  It was the year that Unaffiliateds overtook the Republican party in most active voter registrations at 35 percent for UAFs, 33 percent for the GOP, and 31 percent for Democrats.

In 2016, Republicans had another shock.  Democrats overcame the Republican active voter registration advantage by 5475 voters. Voters placed in the active category soared to 87 percent.  UAFs held the dominant registration position at 35 percent and broke towards the Democrats as Hillary Clinton won Colorado.

As of 2018, Democrats have increased their advantage over the GOP by 16,429 active voters, Democrats and Republicans share voter registration percentages at 31 +/- percent, and UAFs dominate at 38 percent.

Between 2008 and 2018, Colorado’s population increased by 566,000, or the size of a city with a population between Denver’s and Colorado Springs’.  That pseudo city apparently leans Democratic and puts Republicans into a hole.

With the large increase in Unaffiliated voters, it’s tough to see how either party’s agenda is keeping up with citizen objectives or expectations, although Democrats are somewhat more closely aligned than Republicans as of today.

Neither party achieved their progressive v. conservative programs from 2017 to 2018 with the legislative chambers split, but it can be argued that Gov. John Hickenlooper reached his pro-business, socially moderate goals.

For both parties, a question is whether the 2018 election will clarify the will of the people.  The governor’s race offers two distinct agendas, progressive v. conservative.

Four significant ballot initiatives will test the state’s current leanings.  The school finance constitutional amendment, already on the ballot, will determine whether wealthier Coloradans should pay more for public schools, with an increase in the state’s income tax beginning with individuals earning more than $150,000 per year.

Two transportation initiatives may compete against each other.  The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce is backing a .06 sales tax increase that will produce $6 billion in bonds for new roads and improvements. The Independence Institute led by anti-taxer Jon Caldara supports an initiative to produce $5 billion in bonds with no tax increase, meaning the money lowers revenue for other state programs no matter the condition of Colorado’s economy.

A fracking initiative may move the 500 foot setback from various types of buildings to 2,500, increasing protected area from 18 acres from a certain point to 450 acres, thus securing health and safety benefits for home owners but decreasing available drilling properties for energy developers.

These initiatives represent the issues on which the state legislature mostly punted over the last two sessions because they involve taxation and TABOR and the too-hot-to-touch controversy over oil and gas development.

Their resolutions, if they all make the ballot, will give longish-term answers to three questions: how influential 566,000 new Colorado residents will be on the state’s social and economic direction; whether voter energy that dropped precipitously in 2010 will continue its dramatic rise in 2018, and whether the Republican Party’s conservative social and economic agenda, compelling in 2010, will be put to rest in 2018.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.