Q&A: How Democrats won Colorado’s midterm elections
Despite declines in voter turnout among women and young people, Colorado clinched its standing as a blue state.
A blue wave hit Colorado this year, giving Democrats control of the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate. Both parties were shocked by the results. So what happened?
Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Robert Preuhs, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, breaks down voter-turnout rates and explains why Republicans fell short.
How did voting this term compare to historic trends?
Historically, we’re seeing relatively high turnout, but that’s been the case for 2018 and 2014 to some extent as well. In Colorado, and I think the rest of the country, we were looking at turnout that was approximately what we saw back in 2014. We didn’t have quite the enthusiasm of 2018, but you have to remember that was post-election of President Trump and the Women’s March.
If you go back to 2012, 2016 and even 2008, Colorado was considered one of the competitive swing states. So that draws a lot of money in terms of political advertising, and voters internalize this perception that their votes count because it’s going to be a close election. That wasn’t quite the case here in Colorado this year.
Is Colorado now a blue state then?
Yeah, what we’re mostly seeing is that we’re a blue state. We’re certainly more liberal in terms of social and cultural policies — even fiscally. This particular election suggested that we’re not too far from the norm in that we don’t really like taxes. We reduced our overall tax rate, but at the same time, we were open to spending more money on specific programs such as affordable housing and school lunches.
On top of that, we gave Democrats what we call the trifecta — control of the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate. You have to go back to the 1930s to have a majority in the state House of Representatives that’s as large as it is right now for the Democrats. There may be some ebbs and flows, but for the most part Colorado is now a blue state and will probably stay that way for the next 5 to 10 years. We’ll see what happens. It will mostly depend on whether Republicans end up repositioning themselves.
RELATED: More young people are registered to vote. But will they?
Let’s talk demographics. Did young people turn out in large numbers, as many had hoped? Did the Roe v. Wade issue bring women out?
The youth vote (in Colorado) was actually down in terms of both absolute numbers and in terms of percentage of voters. Again, all these are relative to 2018, but also relative to 2020 since presidential elections have higher voter turnouts. We had fewer folks in the 18 to 24 age group that voted, including if you expand it up to 18 to 35 year olds. Of course, we have more registered voters of that age group, so the rate does go down a little bit. But we’re still probably a leading state in terms of turnout and one of the leading states in terms of youth turnout.
Women’s turnout rate dropped a bit. Yes, abortion was a big issue and there were several polls leading up to the election in Colorado that suggested, particularly for Democrats, abortion was one of the primary concerns. But when it came down to it, that didn’t seem to push historic numbers of women to go vote in Colorado, and particularly younger women. I think part of that is because the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed the right to an abortion for women at any stage of pregnancy this past spring, which may make that issue, at least within the state, seem less pressing.
Any larger themes you observed with this election?
I think the real story in Colorado, but also nationally, is a drop off we wouldn’t expect from Republicans. In Colorado, Republicans were still voting at higher rates than Democrats, but they didn’t sustain that high level of voting we usually see them sustaining in midterms. There’s a lot going on in our political context right now, and probably most of the surprise can be linked back to Trump fatigue, the inability of the Republican Party to escape President Trump’s image and the electorate’s general sense that it’s time to move on.