Editor’s note: Scott Adler, the director of the American Politics Research Lab, contacted Colorado Politics to say the staff reversed the racial makeup of one of its questions. The original column is below.
The headline from the newly released Colorado Political Climate Survey is that Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, as well as the governor and the legislature, are slipping in popularity.
The report includes a buffet for politicos to chew on, hosever, including whether they believe the forecast that shows a chilly Colorado for incumbents, especially Republicans who have a 239-pound stable genius on their backs.
The findings from CU’s American Politics Research Lab, however, suggest it’s not a good year to wander too far to the right on the campaign trail, but as President Trump can tell you, polls have been wrong before.
Republican political operatives rolled out big time against the survey to undermine the findings, nicking it on methodology, first that the sample was 47 percent Democrats, 33 percent Republicans and 20 percent independents. In Colorado the three are relatively even.
Most of the CU survey doesn’t break out the results by race, but for a question about race relations, respondents who said they were a racial minority outnumbered white respondents more than 2 to 1 — in a state that’s 81 percent white.
That all can be true, but in the “cry wolf” realm, spin doctors complaining about the methodology of an unflattering poll is as much a part of the political game as a punt is to football; you shouldn’t do it too much.
The findings seem consistent with other polls. The CU survey put Trump’s approval rating in Colorado is 34 percent. That’s not significantly lower than the president’s national polling numbers, 38.4 percent approval, with includes his solid support across the Deep South.
Last November, about the same time that CU was asking questions, the Keating Colorado Poll collecting public opinions that indicated 64 percent of Coloradans had an unfavorable view of the president. Pretty close, and the Keating poll was close to evenly divided between party affiliations, plus those polled were 72 percent white.
Besides the worried Republican and giddy Democratic insiders I chat with, my experienced brain knows it’s not a great year to run as a Trump ally.
Don’t believe me? How Tom Tancredo, the most optimistic man in politics who dropped out of the race last week, as our Ernest Luning was quick to report, because he couldn’t raise money.
“It will be hard for any Republican to win this state,” he told CBS4.
This year unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in party primaries, which makes it even more unpredictable and perilous to chum up to the president’s more divisive positions on immigration, women or Russian meddling.
Trump got only 34 percent support from independent voters in a, Gallup Poll, while presidents have typically gotten 60 percent from them after a year.
Gardner has done a good job to support the Republican agenda and yet keep his distance when the president and his base steer the GOP onto the highway to the danger zone.
After a year in which the billionaire who Gardner once called a “buffoon” occupied the White House, the amicable politician from Yuma, a man perceived as politically popular, saw his approval rating slide from 43 percent to 25 percent.
But Gardner is where the cracks in the CU poll show up. The Keating Poll the same month had Gardner at 44 percent approval. A month before, the Morning Consult poll ranked Gardner one of the 10 biggest losers in approval ratings slides, down 18 points to 39 percent approval among Colorado voters. But 57 percent before seemed a bit unlikely, as well, given a poll, flawed or not, that has him at 25. Polls are snapshots, and the scenery is always changing.
If that’s the Trump burden on Gardner, it should have the attention of politicians who aren’t nearly as skilled or well-liked as Cory. There aren’t many.
There’s all kinds of talk, which now only get louder, about which home-run establishment Democrat will challenge Gardner in 2020. Names that get thrown around: Hickenlooper, House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, off the top of my head.
But if she can put together the money and political infrastructure, University of Colorado scientist Trish Zornio is a bright, likeable candidate Coloradans have been known to embrace. And maybe her time is right. Democrats refused to break from the party’s unspoken line of succession in 2016 and funneled the nomination to Hillary Clinton, when the passion was behind a 75-year-old New England socialist named Bernie.
Congress, however, could only wish for Gardner’s numbers. Only 14 percent of the representative sample of Coloradans approved of the job performance of the legislative branch. This one is the least troubling. Americans have this innate blind spot to separate Congress, the institution, from the person they send there. Down South we say, “He may be a fool, but he’s our fool.”
You could call it the Mike Coffman Effect, because the independent-minded congressman from a diverse swing district has proven hard to beat. If it’s a wave year for Democrats, the tide would have to rise pretty high to take out buoyant Mike. That could be the watermark for what kind of year this is.
Incumbent Republican legislators — in a small pool of competitive districts — will need to conjure up some magic Mike, looking at the CU report. A year ago the General Assembly had a 51 percent approval rating. This year it’s 43 percent. Democrats are still at 60 percent, but Republicans got only 27.
Look, it’s still four seasons until next November, and nothing is as unpredictable as politics and weather. The mind of the voter is like chasing autumn leaves, but right now they’re blowing to the left.