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Colorado: Unaffiliated voters outnumber Dems, Republicans

Lynn Bartels
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

Colorado’s unaffiliated voters ” those who don’t belong to any political party ” are now the largest voting bloc in the state.

It marks the first time in almost two decades that unaffiliated voters lead both Republicans and Democrats in voter registration.

“Independent-minded voters have been moving up everywhere in the West, but Colorado clearly is the cutting edge,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “We have a long history of registering independents.”

Unaffiliated voters lead Republicans by 1,546 voters, while Democrats remain the third-largest voting bloc, according to the latest registration figures from the secretary of state.

Put another way, of the state’s 2.8 million voters, 34.19 percent are unaffiliated, 34.14 percent are Republican and 31.2 percent are Democrat. The remaining voters belong to other parties.

Unaffiliated voters participate in general elections in November, but cannot vote in primary elections in August without declaring to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Some unaffiliated voters interested in a particular race often claim membership in one party, vote in that primary and then switch their registration back to unaffiliated.

Since the 2006 election, Republicans have lost about 42,000 voters while Democrats have picked up about 32,000, registration records show.

Pat Waak, chairwoman of the Colorado Democratic Party, said the latest figures don’t surprise her.

“Part of this is the independence of the Western voter, but we started to see a real shift last summer,” she said. “What it shows is that Coloradans are moving away from the Republican Party. I think it’s great news.”

But Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, warned Democrats about being too cocky, which he said his own party has been guilty of. He noted Republicans dominated the 2002 election, but only two years later suffered humiliating losses.

“This underscores what I have said about Colorado being a competitive state,” he said. “Some years it’s good for Democrats, and other years it’s good for Republicans.”

Wadhams pointed out that Republicans did not lose a statewide election from 1962 to 1970.

“Just about the time the Republican Party looked invincible, along came Watergate,” he said. “Democrats creamed the Republicans in 1974.”

Ciruli said unaffiliated voters were the largest voting group three times between 1968 and 1976, and then every election from 1978 to 1990.

In 1992, Democrats took the lead, but voter registration was nearly identical: 34 percent of voters were Democrat, 33 percent were Republican and 32 percent were unaffiliated. It marked the first time since 1984 that Democrats led Republicans in voter registration.

In the following years, Republicans took the top line, unaffiliated voters moved into second place and Democrats trailed in third.

Ciruli a year and a half ago predicted the voter trend that has emerged.

“It’s been clear for some time now that the Republican registration has stalled and unaffiliated registration has moved up rapidly,” he said.

“The main message for me is these new unaffiliated voters by and large, while they are very interested in this election, are not tied to any party loyalty.”


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