The biggest wildcard in the next few elections is a wildcard like me, so you better be nice, Republicans and Democrats.
At of the end of September, I was joined by 1,381,934 other unaffiliated voters.
Our bloc looks down on Democrats in Colorado with a little over a million members, and the GOP, with a little under that. We say try harder. The same is true nationally as well.
Unaffiliated, however, doesn’t mean uninterested.
A Pew Research report in March looked at independent voters and found out, well, they’re not all that independent.
But unaffiliated voters in Colorado aren’t necessarily swing voters.
It’s a fallacy to assume all unaffiliated voters are middle-of-the-road on their views. A good chunk of the far left and far right disassociate from their logical parties, because the parties aren’t extreme enough for their taste. That doesn’t mean they’ll vote for the opposing major party, though many might off-ramp to a minor party that appeals to their view.
Nationally, 17% of independents identified as more likely to vote for Democratic candidates and just 13% in the Pew report said they leaned toward the Republican Party.
Just 10% had no partisan leaning whatsoever, but that trend line tracked with people who have no interest in politics at all.
We unaffiliated voters tend to sample from the pork counter, not buy into the parties whole-hog.
People who professed in exit polling to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal in 2016 made up about 15% of the voters, and they were only slightly more likely to have voted for Donald Trump, but it's an edge that means something if Democrats run candidates with wild-spending ideas.
Lots of Colorado voters have been willing to split their tickets, as well. Remember, in 2014 Republican Cory Gardner won a seat in the U.S. Senate by 39,688 votes while the Republican at the top of the ticket, Bob Beauprez, lost by 68,238 — a difference that's equal to every living soul in the city of Boulder.
Predicting elections this far out is a slippery proposition, because a lot will depend on whom Democrats nominate to take on Trump and incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, but Proposition CC on this November’s ballot could tell us a lot more about the electorate.
Prop CC would permanently take away tax rebates under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the cap on government spending that conservatives hold sacred. The beneficiaries would be K-12 schools, higher education and transportation, three pots of money lawmakers have been reluctant to fill from the $32 billion state budget.
If voters choose to hang on to their TABOR refunds, they’re sending a message about government spending. And if unaffiliated voters side with TABOR, Democrats should understand that they have work to do to sell candidates pitching Medicare for All and taxing the rich next year.
If you doubt Colorado's silent conservative leanings, consider the defeat of every statewide tax hike proposal for a generation. The outcome on Proposition CC is a harbinger as much as a tax issue.
Yet, consider the state’s two fastest growing counties, El Paso and Denver, are trending left in the people and policies they’re putting into office.
You can cloud the future for the major parties even further in the aftermath of the next census, as well. Democrats are working furiously to get a good accounting of those who might support their policies and candidates.
Voters last year, however, passed amendments Y and Z, which gives two independent commissions the power to draw boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. The aim was to take the mapmaking authority out of the hands of legislators who might bend the lines to favor their party. That bottomless well of power and influence for party officials is, ideally, no more.
But perhaps their need to sway those of us who don’t drink the party Kool-Aid with good ideas will grow the discourse. The best ideas represent the best thinking of everyone, as former Gov. John Hickenlooper was fond of explaining.
Compromise is the special sauce in most of the best things that have ever happened in this country, from the first Thanksgiving to the Emancipation Proclamation, the moonshot and taking out Bin Laden.
Americans used to do big things as one America. A good many of us unaffiliated Americans think getting along and working out problems would be great again.
Ronald Reagan understood this. He built the Republican big tent and authored the 11th commandment about not speaking ill of another party member. He flipped the South, for many reasons, from blue to red, and won re-election by 59% in 1984. The only presidential candidate to even come close to that was Barack Obama, with 53% in 2008.
In a speech to the United Republicans of California in 1967, five years after he stopped being a Democrat, Reagan warned that “a narrow sectarian party” is destined to go out “in a blaze of glorious defeat.”
The Gipper knew he couldn’t just win with Democrats, and the much narrower base still worshipped Reagan — because he flirted with them, but did not pander at the expense of the middle.