Colorado voters sent mixed messages this election cycle. Every statewide Republican candidate lost; Republicans lost their slim majority in the state Senate, and Democrats increased their majority in the state House. Even battle-tested Congressman Mike Coffman lost to attorney Jason Crow.
While voters elected candidates who have promised billions of dollars in new spending, they also voted down several ballot measures that would have increased taxes for statewide priorities including transportation and education. Another measure that would have devastated one of Colorado’s core economic sectors, energy production, also was defeated.
Those conflicting results may not seem to make sense, but when considering Colorado’s roots as a libertarian state, along with our current national environment, it’s easier to see how voters could both push back against President Trump while also continuing their typical opposition to growing government.
Possibly more interesting than the divergent preferences of 2018’s voters is the voters themselves. For the first time, more unaffiliated voters turned in their ballots than either Republicans or Democrats, with 33.8 percent of voters identifying as unaffiliated compared to 32.6 as Democrat and 32.1 percent as Republican.
In another interesting twist, Republicans turned out at a higher rate than either Democrats or unaffiliateds, with 69.1 percent of registered Republicans turning in ballots, against 67.5 percent of Democrats and 53.2 percent of unaffiliated voters. Despite winning the turnout game, it was still not enough to overcome the share of unaffiliateds voting for Democrats.
Overall, 62 percent of voters voted this year. Compared to 57 percent who voted in 2014, Colorado was in keeping with a national trend of higher turnout.
Here’s how we process these numbers: the outcome was driven much more by tone than substance. Donald Trump lost Colorado by five points in 2016, and Colorado voters continue to disapprove of the job he is doing as president.
That’s not an ideological realignment, it’s a matter of messaging.
Voters, especially those in the middle, are sick and tired of the rhetoric today, and it’s not enough to use a child’s excuse that “they did it first.”
On more ideological tests — should government increase taxes or industries be more regulated — Coloradans continue to take full advantage of the benefits of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and ask politicians to work within the existing state budget.
The message is clear to politicians of both parties: Coloradans care about how you go about your job, and keep your hands out of their wallets.