(For an interactive map of election results by county Click Here)
By Mollie Putzig
A political expert said that Colorado’s split voting in the recent mid-term elections reflects a division in how Coloradans view the effectiveness of government at the state and national level and a polarized political climate.
Coloradans voted to keep the state solidly purple. In addition to split representation, voting brought in leadership that doesn’t reflect their position on major issues.
Close to home, Coloradans trusted blue, electing Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Red won out in Washington with Cory Gardner elected for U.S. Senate. And the generally purple state solidly voted down a GOP ticket item: personhood.
The difference between candidates was only 5 percent, while personhood lost 65 to 35 percent. Despite the party divide, political analyst Eric Sondermann said the trend of split ballot voting is decreasing.
“If you go back 20 or more years, you would have upwards of 20 percent of the voting population that would typically split their ballot,” said Sondermann, who works as an independent political analyst and commentator out of Denver, Colorado.
Only 5 percent of Coloradans split their ballot this election. Sondermann said that is indicative of the very polarized era we live in.
“The Democratic Party has sorted itself out on the left flank and the Republican Party has sorted itself out on the right flank,” Sondermann said. “And there aren’t that many people in the middle who truly go back and forth between the two.”
Colorado’s Republican counties, found along the eastern plains and western mountains, are more partisan than the Democratic counties in the middle of the state. Washington County, the most Republican in the state, voted an average of 84 percent Republican in the Governor’s and Senate races. Denver, the furthest left county, voted an average of 72 percent Democratic in the same races.
True to its down-the-middle nature, Colorado ranked 26th in the nation when it comes to ballot splitting, according to a University of Minnesota blog. Coloradans split their vote 27.8 percent of the time in all past presidential and U.S. Senate elections.
In this election, Coloradans were generally happy with the state government that boosted the economy and decreased unemployment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re less confident about what many consider a dysfunctional federal government.
“The Obama taint was particularly problematic for Democrats at the federal level,” Sondermann said.
This led to Colorado being the only state to keep a Democratic governor and oust a Democratic senator in the mid-term election.
The candidates’ campaigns, as much as the divergent conditions of the state and the nation, led to ballot splitting.
“[Hickenlooper] is not a terribly partisan person. He is not as polarized as many politicians are,” Sondermann said. “His quirky personality, which is part of his brand and his appeal, resonates with a lot of people.”
Beauprez, on the other hand, tended to put people off with comments, including one in which he compared IUDs to abortion.
“Beauprez’s campaign got sort of weird at the end,” Sondermann said. “Deciding to close with an attack on Hickenlooper over crime and mayhem being loosed in the streets, that’s just never where Hickenlooper was vulnerable.”
Udall’s challenger was a more attractive candidate. Gardner connected with voters by maintaining a happy, energetic attitude, while Udall distanced himself by appearing “dour” throughout the campaign, Sondermann said.
Udall also shot himself in the foot by presenting a one-note campaign, Sondermann said. His crippling focus on attacking Gardner over personhood that he earned himself the nickname “Mark Uterus.”
Gardner likely lost some voters for his position on personhood, which failed in 92 percent of Colorado counties. Gardner strategically reversed his position on personhood in Colorado in March, but remained a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill, Sondermann said.
Around 50,000 voters didn’t fill out their ballots all in favor for one party or the other.
“They voted either for Gardner and Hickenlooper, or in some cases for Hickenlooper and maybe left the Senate blank,” Sondermann said.
Sondermann said political polarization and cynicism toward an underperforming system has been ongoing and increasing for decades.