Thursday, May 28, 2009

How Are Democrats Losing Colorado?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Colorado.

In 2008, Colorado proved to be a good state for Democrats. President Obama won the state with a 54% - 45% margin, while Senator Mark Udall won his first state-wide election by a 53% - 43% margin.

Additionally, both houses of the State Legislature as well as the Governor’s office are controlled by Democrats.

But all that appears to be changing. In recent months, Democrats have lost considerable support from residents of the Centennial State. A Public Policy Polling survey from last month finds President Obama with a 49% approval rating - far below the national average - with 45% disapproval in the state of Colorado.

Udall, meanwhile, suffers 41% approval and 46% disapproval ratings.

And this means trouble for the 2010 elections. According to another April poll, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter’s approval rating is 41% while his disapproval rating is 49%. Furthermore, a plurality of respondents said they would back Republican Scott McInnis over Ritter. Other state-wide offices appear to be slipping away as well.

The one saving grace for Democrats is that virtually no one in Colorado knows much about Democratic Senator Michael Bennet - so few that a quarter of voters say they know too little to have an opinion about him. Bennet was selected by Ritter to replace Ken Salazar, who was appointed by Obama to head the Interior Department.

Bennet’s race looks particularly interesting. He’s an east-coaster who moved to Colorado twelve years ago, eventually became Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and was never really involved in politics. But he’s somehow raised $1.4 million already for his 2010 campaign, and his top Republican opponent is a District Attorney that has cost his constituency $100,000 in court fees for raiding a tax service company without properly following the Fourth Amendment. Nonetheless, Bennet has a greater disapproval rating than his approval rating and he is slightly behind one of his speculated GOP opponents.

As one Denver Post columnist put it recently, “what a bummer it can be to be a Democrat in Colorado.”

Why are the Democrats slipping?

There are only a few ways to try to explain this trend.

First, Democrats have been fortunate in Colorado recently with the help of Hispanic voters. Census Bureau estimates for 2008 say that 20% of the population in Colorado is Latino. Yet only 14% of respondents to the Obama/Udall poll identified as Hispanic.

Since the recession began, Colorado has been the state with the largest decline in immigrant employment, thus many are leaving. Of course, non-citizens cannot vote, but it is possible that Hispanic citizens are leaving the state as well. A recent study found that the “immigrant unemployment rate is now 5.6 percentage points higher than in the third quarter of 2007, before the recession began. Native unemployment has increased 3.8 percentage points over the same period.”

If immigrant unemployment is rising faster than native unemployment, it suggests that employers are waning from hiring immigrants at the moment - either because of a sense of nationalism sparked by the recession, or because of a crackdown on employment of illegal immigrants - and by extension waning from hiring Hispanics in general.

It’s a pretty loose theory.

Second, particular Democrats are lagging, not necessarily the entire party. For example, liberal blog currently has Sen. Bennet listed as “down” because he’s “not a natural campaigner by any means [and] has been sloppy.”

But Bennet is not that far behind other Democrats in his approval rating. In fact, none of his GOP opponents - whether or not they have announced - is viewed more favorably than unfavorably by the voters. So this explanation does not work too well.

Third, all politics is local, and state-level Democrats have been making the party unpopular. This is probably the best theory.

From a conservative columnist’s recent Op-Ed in the Denver Post:

“We're now slogging through a recession that Ritter recklessly failed to prepare for, his legislative allies are split and ineffectual…Democrats this session failed on a number of cherished goals, including a tuition break for illegal immigrants, easing sentences and ending the death penalty, quitting the Electoral College, and nanny-state rules for cellphones and seatbelts.”

These have been some big issues in Colorado’s State House. Thanks to TABOR, Colorado has difficulty producing surpluses in good economic times and the budget gets punished for it during bad economic times. It’s similar to the fiscal mess in California that has persisted since the passage of Proposition 13. Since a Democrat is in the Governor’s office, he is going to get the blame.

Other issues mentioned above are going to be equally unpopular. The Electoral College issue, for example, is one that probably doesn’t sit well with voters. The state Senate approved a bill to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which a state’s electoral votes would go to the overall national winner of a presidential race. Once enough states join the compact to reach 270 votes, the compact would go into effect. Because Colorado is a smaller state, they would effectively get less say in a presidential contest. Besides, a good communications director can easily argue that the bill is taking the vote away from Coloradans, and make a GOP political gain.

Voters do not necessarily separate the actions of national party leaders from the state party leaders. Hence, these local issues may very well be influencing Obama’s approval rating in Colorado.

Of course, even that theory is not concrete. As more stories and research on this issue develop, we will keep you informed as to why Democrats are letting Colorado slip away from them.

UPDATE: One explanation that hadn't been discussed is the possibility that Coloradans simply have an unusually low opinion of politicians in general (at least at the present time). For one thing it almost seems unreal that support for the Democrats would diminish so quickly in just six or seven months. Additionally, the favorability ratings of Republican challengers aren't too high either - which we mentioned before.

If this is the case the Democrats would not have to worry too much. As Kelly Fero told us in January, "In the end, every election is about accomplishing two goals: taking away the voters' permission to vote for your opponent and granting them permission to vote for you as an acceptable alternative." If all it takes is demonstrating oneself as the lesser of two evils, the Democrats will still have an even playing field come 2010.


Anonymous said...

A state's size doesn't determine its political relevance in presidential elections. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided "battleground" states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 "battleground" states. Similarly, in 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state's electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

Anonymous said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes--that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

The bill is currently endorsed by 1,777 state legislators — 829 sponsors (in 48 states) and an additional 948 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado-- 68%, Iowa --75%, Michigan-- 73%, Missouri-- 70%, New Hampshire-- 69%, Nevada-- 72%, New Mexico-- 76%, North Carolina-- 74%, Ohio-- 70%, Pennsylvania -- 78%, Virginia -- 74%, and Wisconsin -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware --75%, Maine -- 71%, Nebraska -- 74%, New Hampshire --69%, Nevada -- 72%, New Mexico -- 76%, Rhode Island -- 74%, and Vermont -- 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas --80%, Kentucky -- 80%, Mississippi --77%, Missouri -- 70%, North Carolina -- 74%, and Virginia -- 74%; and in other states polled: California -- 70%, Connecticut -- 73% , Massachusetts -- 73%, New York -- 79%, and Washington -- 77%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 28 state legislative chambers, in small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes -- 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.