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Poll finds unaffiliated voters in Colo. don’t like GOP or Trump

Author: Ernest Luning - November 15, 2018 - Updated: November 15, 2018

Students Elise Hanley, 11, left, and Grace Hinman,13, work on their school work as voters below cast their ballots at the Library 21c on Nov. 6 in Colorado Springs (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Colorado’s unaffiliated voters turned out for last week’s election in record numbers and turned their backs on Republicans by wide margins, a survey conducted by a GOP polling firm shows.

What’s more, President Donald Trump’s low approval rating among unaffiliated voters — who outnumber Colorado’s registered Democrats and Republicans — appears to have dragged down Republican candidates, who suffered historic losses up and down the ballot.

Pollster David Flaherty, whose Louisville-based Magellan Strategies surveyed unaffiliated voters after the election, said the poll’s findings and the election results “can only be described as extraordinary … because in the past 20 years, never has one political party been so overwhelmingly rejected at every level of representative government by the electorate.”

The scale of the Democrats’ win in Colorado is hard to overstate: For the first time since 1938, the party will control every statewide elected office and both chambers of the General Assembly.

Democrat Jared Polis won the governor’s race by 10-1/5 percentage points — his victory fueled in part by an overwhelming win among unaffiliated voters, with 59 percent supporting Polis compared to 25 percent supporting Republican Walker Stapleton, the poll found. Unaffiliated women gave Polis a 45 percentage point margin, while unaffiliated men preferred the Democrat by 24 percentage points.

One-third of unaffiliated voters said they were less likely to vote for Republicans because of Trump, who declared the midterms were a referendum on his presidency and campaigned throughout the country in the months before the election. Just 12 percent of unaffiliated voters said Trump’s influence made them more likely to vote for Republican candidates.

The telephone poll of 500 unaffiliated voters was conducted Nov. 7-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

The Democratic Party is viewed favorably by 45 percent of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters and unfavorably by 31 percent, the poll found. Only 25 percent of respondents view the GOP favorably, however, and 53 percent view the party unfavorably.

Asked which party they typically support, 51 percent of respondents said Democrats, while 24 percent said Republicans. Among voters age 18-44, the gap was even wider, with 55 percent naming the Democrats and just 18 percent saying they tended to vote for Republicans.

Not only did the state’s unaffiliated voters lean toward Democrats, but they also voted in unprecedented numbers, Flaherty noted. For the first time in a Colorado midterm election, unaffiliated voters cast more ballots than either Democrats or Republicans, flipping historic turnout models on their head.

Out of the Colorado ballots validated as of Tuesday, 878,360 were cast by unaffiliated voters, 849,610 by Democrats and 813,644 by Republicans.

“Time will tell if the 2018 election was an acceleration of the Republican Party’s waning ability to win statewide elections in Colorado, or a sobering period of clarity that sparked a new direction for the GOP,” Flaherty said.

Education and health care were the top two issues unaffiliated voters said had influenced their vote for governor and legislative candidates, the pollsters found.

Asked why they supported Polis, unaffiliated-voter respondents brought up his positions on education, health care and the environment. Some said they liked his business background and considered him more competent and qualified than Stapleton.

Those who opposed the Democrat said they worried he would raise taxes, increase government spending and threaten the oil and gas industry. A handful said they didn’t vote for Polis because he is gay.

Unaffiliated voters who supported Stapleton said they liked his fiscally conservative positions on taxes and the state budget, and a few pointed to his opposition to “sanctuary cities” sheltering immigrants in the country illegally and support for Trump.

Many more unaffiliated voters who opposed Stapleton, however, cited his support for Trump and the administration’s policies as a negative. Others said in transcribed, open-ended responses that they considered Stapleton a “liar,” “dishonest” and “untrustworthy,” with some bringing up his campaign’s attacks against Polis.

Flaherty characterized Trump’s upside-down job approval rating with unaffiliated voters as “toxic,” with 31 percent approving of his performance and 62 percent disapproving.

Asked whether they would support Trump or a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, 55 percent picked an unnamed Democrat, and 23 percent went with Trump.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.