Swingers: Colorado

Let the fun continue – this time in Colorado – home of increasingly fashionable post-Hollywood faux-Cowboy apparel and a thriving cattle industry.  Land of opulent resort towns like Aspen, Vale and Steamboat Springs, and to quiet, conservative mountain towns not dissimilar to the caricature depicted on Trey Parker’s ‘South Park.’  The state has long been a Republican stronghold – in fact, from 1968 through 2004, Colorado was carried by a Democratic candidate only once – in 1992 by Bill Clinton, and then only because Ross Perot stole all of the libertarian voters in the state who would ordinarily have held their nose and voted Republican.  But in 2008, the state appeared to suddenly flip for the Democrats, and it was one of a very few states whose democratic party suffered no real casualties in the slaughter that was the 2010 midterm election.  So…what happened in 2008 to move a solid Republican territory into my swing state list? Let’s look at the maps.  The first map is the 3-cycle average, and the second is the 2008 results – remembering that blue counties vote democrat, red counties vote republican, grey counties swing, and darker colors imply bigger majorities.  Note the gold star marking Jefferson County – an elevated Western suburb of Denver – as the state’s most representative district (in fact, this county has never missed the slant quotient or even the independent vote rate by more than a few tenths of a point).

Swing Counties:
  • Alamosa (Southern Rockies)
  • Arapahoe (Denver Metro)
  • Broomfield (Denver Metro)
  • Conejos (Southern Rockies)
  • Huenfano (Southern Rockies)
  • Jefferson ** (Denver Metro)
  • La Plata (Southern Rockies)
  • Larimer (Northern Rockies)
  • Ouray (Southern Rockies)
  • San Juan (Southern Rockies)
Liberal Base:
  • Denver (11.5% of the state vote)
  • Boulder (7.2%)
Populated Conservative Counties:
  • El Paso (Colorado Springs)
  • Douglass (Southern Denver suburb)
  • Weld (Eastern Fort Collins region and Greeley)
I’ve highlighted three regions of interest – all of which hopped far to the left in 2008 as compared to normal, and each for a different reason.
Along the spine of the Rocky Mountains there sits a swath of counties which, at one time, were rugged, untamed wilderness – ranches and tiny mountain mining towns dominated, but in the recent years, it has become fashionable for Hollywood stars and their support personnel in the vacation/tourism industry to invade from the west and create quaint little faux-rustic oases complete with intentionally shredded Levis, cheesy cowboy accessories and vegan delis.  Oh yes, from the cultural splendor of the independent film festivals to the influx of California-style pizza (which, BTW, is gross), these ski resorts and idyllic bedroom communities feature all the elitism and liberal bias of California without the traffic and crippling Democrat-created debt and union bullying.  Unfortunately, this is an actual trend – the demographics do not suggest anything radical changed in these counties…they have been steadily drifting left since 1992 and will probably continue to do so.  The good news, however, is that they don’t amount to much in terms of state vote percentage.
In the Denver/Boulder urban complex, there is a rapidly expanding Federal research presence and a network of increasingly liberal well-to-do suburbs associated with that government workforce, not to mention the reality that Denver itself is becoming increasingly diverse – in particular the Hispanic population in the greater Denver area is on the increase.  But urban centers en masse voted more and leaned further left in 2008 than normal, and it’s unrealistic to assume that this is the beginning of a never-before-seen trend – this appears to be the result of Obama’s massive get out the vote campaign.  Boulder is also a big college/research region and young people (known for voting democratically when they actually manage to vote) voted 32% more in 2008 than they did in 2004, helping to explain the leftward shift in that region.
And finally, in the southern counties, there is a dramatic increase in Hispanic residents as recent immigrants filter north from New Mexico to find work.  This increase began long before 2008, but Hispanics in Colorado voted even less often than Hispanics nationally before the 2008 election.  However, like in Nevada, the Hispanic voters came out in droves – increasing their vote totals by 72% between 2004 and 2008 and causing a number of traditionally conservative of middle of the road counties to shift leftward for Obama.  As a matter of fact, all six of the states biggest leftward shifting counties in 2008 were in the top ten for Colorado in Hispanic population percentage as of the 2000 census.  Although we expect the southern counties to continue to be increasingly impacted by Hispanic core issues going forward, we nonetheless believe that expecting very high turnout rates in 2012 is unrealistic.
But let’s take a look at the state as a whole and see how voting patterns in the five slant groupings have changed since 2000 – remember, we show slant ratio (the ratio of democrat votes to democrat plus republican votes) and then the state vote percentage.
GROUP 1 (very conservative)
  • 2000: 31.6 (27.3% of state vote)
  • 2004: 31.7 (27.2%)
  • 2008: 38.4 (27.4%)
GROUP 2 (Republican leaners)
  • 2000: 39.2 (6.4%)
  • 2004: 39.0 (6.9%)
  • 2008: 46.6 (6.9%)
GROUP 3 (Swing Counties)
  • 2000: 45.2 (33.9%)
  • 2004: 48.1 (34.3%)
  • 2008: 55.1 (34.0%)
GROUP 4 (Democrat leaners)
  • 2000: 53.2 (12.2%)
  • 2004: 52.5 (12.4%)
  • 2008: 59.4 (12.4%)
GROUP 5 (very liberal)
  • 2000: 63.2 (20.1%)
  • 2004: 69.1 (19.4%)
  • 2008: 75.4 (19.1%)
We note with interest that the conservative counties weren’t changing much at all until 2008 – this lends further credence to my basic theory that much of Obama’s big gains in Colorado were caused by a ground game and an unusual mood that are not likely to be repeated in 2012.  On the other hand, the liberal part of the state is becoming rapidly more liberal with each passing cycle and I have no reason to believe that this trend won’t yield very large democrat majorities in liberal counties going forward (although those liberal counties are losing vote share in the state as people spread out away from Denver and the state gains voters from its southern neighboring states).  In short…I believe the state is becoming more polarized, and likely becoming a true swing state, with conservative and liberal voices sharing the spotlight and swing counties caught in the middle.  The state’s 9 EVs will be very important in 2012, so keep a very close eye on Jefferson County and the other swing counties in the region.  We should be able to tell very quickly whether Obama has actually converted Colorado into a left-leaning swing state or whether it will remain easier for Republicans to claim in the future.

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