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Poll shows race for Colo. governor tightening, but Democrat Polis retains ‘inside track’

Author: Ernest Luning - November 1, 2018 - Updated: November 1, 2018

Colorado gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jared Polis, left, and Republican Walker Stapleton participate in a debate, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Lory Students Center on Colorado State University’s campus in Fort Collins. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

A new poll shows Democrat Jared Polis with a 5 percentage point lead over Republican Walker Stapleton as the race for Colorado’s next governor enters its final week.

The telephone survey of 500 registered voters by Republican firm Magellan Strategies found Polis with the support of 45 percent of voters to 40 percent for Stapleton. The Democrat’s advantage has dropped 2 percentage points from the 47-40 lead Polis held in two earlier surveys conducted by the same firm in mid-September and early October.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday and made available to Colorado Politics before its Thursday morning release, shows 11 percent of voters remain undecided, and another 3 percent support other candidates — Libertarian Scott Helker and Unity Party nominee Bill Hammons.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percentage points.

“With less than a week remaining in the 2018 election cycle, the election for Colorado governor appears to be tightening slightly,” said David Flaherty, the Louisville, Colorado-based CEO of Magellan Strategies.

“However this survey, along with the two prior public surveys we have released this election cycle have consistently measured Jared Polis with a lead of 5 to 7 points. Taking that survey data into account and a real chance that Democrat and unaffiliated turnout will exceed 2014 levels, it is safe to say that Jared Polis has the inside track of becoming the next governor of Colorado.”

The poll comes as the number of ballots received by election officials in Colorado approached 1 million, according to a report Wednesday morning from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

Registered Republicans and Democrats are returning their ballots in nearly equal numbers, while unaffiliated voters, who make up the largest share of Colorado’s 3 million registered voters, accounted for a smaller share — 30 percent — of ballots received to date.

In Colorado’s last midterm election in 2014, Republicans were turning in ballots at a significantly faster clip than Democrats. Analysts suggest this year’s return rates could presage a better results for Democrats than the party typically enjoys in nonpresidential election years.

Flaherty said the new poll shows increased enthusiasm among Republican voters, who had lagged Democrats by a wide margin in his firm’s previous survey.

“Interest in the election has increased significantly among all voters in the past two weeks,” Flaherty said, noting that two-thirds of respondents told the pollster they had the highest level of interest, compared with just under half of respondents three weeks ago.

Stapleton has cut into Polis’ lead among unaffiliated voters since the last poll, reducing the Democrat’s lead from 26 percentage points to 21 percentage points. Fully one-quarter of unaffiliated voters in the most recent poll said they hadn’t made up their mind yet.

Polis is viewed favorably by 45 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 36 percent, the poll found, while 41 percent have a positive impression of Stapleton and 42 percent give him negative marks.

Flaherty acknowledged that the poll’s turnout model — used to make sure the sample of voters surveyed closely approximates who will cast votes by Election Day — could be weighted inaccurately toward the Republicans.

Based on historic turnout data, Flaherty determined before conducting his previous statewide poll that Colorado’s eventual voter turnout will be 35 percent Republican, 33 percent Democrat, 31 percent unaffiliated and 1 percent other parties.

However, after tracking ballot returns — which show Democrats making up a bigger share of the electorate than in previous midterms — Flaherty said he considered adjusting the proportions but decided against it “for reasons of consistency and comparison.”

“We completely understand that the final voter turnout by party may be less Republican than this survey indicates, and what our own ballot return reports indicate,” he said, noting that he used the same party distribution in the new survey.

> Click here to access the full poll at http://magellanstrategies.com/blog/.

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.