Sunday, October 7, 2012

Colorado Election Prediction 2012

What makes Colorado such a close swing state? What do and Obama and Romney have to do to win there? Has Colorado always been such a close swing state? What counties do Obama and Romney need to win in order to win Colorado? I will examine those questions in my post.

This is my first post in a series of posts analyzing the important battleground states of the Presidential election. I recently wrote a post with a similar format for Wisconsin for the recall election. In these posts, I will discuss the demographics and political trends of each state. I will also discuss the bellwether areas of each state as well as the county baselines Obama needs in order to win statewide. I will be writing this series alphabetically so I will start with Colorado. This post primarily focuses on the baseline and to create the election baseline, I incorporated the results of the 2008 Presidential election and the 2010 Senatorial election. I incorporated the 2008 Presidential results because it shows Obama's previous performance in Colorado and I incorporated the 2010 Senatorial race because it shows how a close election looks in Colorado. As for the baseline percentages, they show the minimum percentage Obama needs in each county to win in Colorado. Anyway, here is a brief political history of Colorado:

Colorado was once a Republican leaning state. It only voted Democratic once between 1968 and 2004. As recently as 2000, Bush won Colorado by 8 points. The Republican margins in the suburban and rural counties easily outweighed Democratic margins in Boulder and Denver. In 2004 though, Colorado began to trend toward the Democrats. They gained the State Legislature and a Senate seat while Kerry lost statewide by 5 points. In 2006, they gained the Governorship then the other Senate seat in 2008 with Obama winning by 9 points statewide. In 2010, they lost the State House but kept the Senate seat by 2 points. This Democratic trend was fueled by an influx of Hispanics into the Denver area, college educated voters into the Boulder area and wealthy liberals into the ski areas. Republicans hope they can reverse the trend and claim they can because Colorado's economy is improving too slowly. Most polls show Obama with a small 3 point lead but the lead could shift a bit before Election Day. Now I will look at the Democratic, Republican and swing areas in Colorado.

Colorado's Democratic areas:
Most states such as Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania have extremely Democratic urban areas and extremely Republican rural areas. In Colorado, the urban core of Denver is Democratic (I will get to the suburbs later,) but not all the rural areas are conservative. There is a "C" shape of counties that cuts through the center of the state along the Rocky Mountains. This "C" contains counties in the north which have ski resorts such as Aspen and Steamboat Springs. The ski areas usually outvote the rural Republicans in the center counties but if the ski area turnout is low, Republicans might make a few surprise wins. The southern part of the "C" contains counties such as Costilla and Pueblo which are Democratic leaning due to the large Hispanic population there. Although many of the Hispanics there were born in the U.S., they still lean strongly Democratic. Although the ski counties and the heavily Hispanic areas in southern Colorado take up space in Colorado, they hold relatively few voters. The main base for the Democrats in Colorado is in Boulder and Denver Counties. Denver County contains the city of Denver with its large liberal white population as well as large numbers of African Americans and Hispanics. Denver usually votes 70%+ Democratic but it needs to have high turnout. Boulder is heavily Democratic because of the extremely liberal university there and the large number of college educated voters and environmentally conscious voters there. It has also been one of the fastest Democratic trending areas too. Gore won here by only 14 points but Obama in 2008 won by 46 points. Anyway, here are the baselines for Obama in the main Democratic areas.

Boulder Obama 69%-31%
Denver Obama 73%-27%
Pitkin Obama 71%-29%
Pueblo Obama 54%-46%

Colorado's Republican areas:
Republicans in Colorado dominate in the far western and eastern parts of the state. The western parts contain many rural conservatives as well as Mormons near the Utah border. The main city in this area is Grand Junction in Mesa County. The eastern part of the state contains many evangelical Christians which is similar to states such as Nebraska and Kansas along the eastern border. The most populous county in this group is Weld County which has a fast growing Hispanic population but Weld County is 67% White and most of the white voters here are very conservative. The center of the state has a few Republican areas too, including the 2nd most populous county in Colorado, El Paso County (Colorado Springs.) Colorado Springs has a few Hispanic areas as well as liberal Colorado College but those areas are outvoted strongly by the large religious and military presence in Colorado Springs. The other large Republican county is Douglas County which is a fast growing suburban county south of Denver. It has nearly 300,000 people today, up from 60,000 in 1990. While the other suburbs are mostly 50-50, Douglas County has a large population of religious and fiscal conservatives. Obama made gains here though because he won 40% of the vote here in 2008 compared to Kerry's 33% in 2004. For Romney to win, he needs to win back a large number of those voters and match the baselines.

Douglas Obama 37%-63%
El Paso Obama 36%-64%
Mesa Obama 32%-68%
Weld Obama 40%-60%

Colorado's suburban/swing areas: 
The swing areas of Colorado are the more mature suburban areas unlike Douglas County which contains a mix of fiscally conservative voters and evangelical Christians and has an 85% White population. The more mature suburban areas are Jefferson, Adams, Broomfield and Arapahoe Counties which are fast growing but have areas that are mostly built up and filled with socially liberal middle class voters. Also, Adams and Arapahoe have fast growing minority populations (Adams has a 35% Hispanic population,) which are helping them trend more Democratic. Adams leans Democratic, mainly due to the large minority population but Arapahoe and Jefferson have voted near or at the state average in the last few elections. These counties were key to Michael Bennett's (D) Senatorial win. In 2010, he faced a strong challenge from social conservative Ken Buck (R) but Bennett won by highlighting Buck's extreme views on abortion rights which worked well for Bennett with the socially liberal unaffiliated women voters in the suburban areas. He won both Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties. Arapahoe County usually votes 1-2 points more Democratic than Colorado and Jefferson usually matches the statewide percentage so these two counties are good barometers. Not only are Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson County key barometers, they also contain 30% of Colorado's population so they have a strong pull on the rest of the state. The other key swing area is Larimer County which will be a barometer for how well Obama is performing with young and well educated voters who are socially liberal but not as liberal on economic issues. Larimer County used to have similar demographics to Douglas County but as Fort Collins which is in Larimer County gained more college educated environmentally conscious residents, it began to take on similar characteristics to Boulder and helped Larimer County trend more Democratic. Republicans though can win Larimer County by performing well in the southern part of the county which is more exurban and conservative like next door Weld County. Here are the baselines for the swing areas:

Adams Obama 54%-46%
Arapahoe Obama 52%-48%
Broomfield Obama 51%-49%
Jefferson Obama 50.2%-49.8%
Larimer Obama 50.3%-49.7%

Map of all baseline counties (map is courtesy of U.S Census Quick facts.) Blue is Democratic, Red is Republican and purple is suburban/swing. 

What to Watch for on Election Night: 
While the election results are coming in, keep a few thoughts in mind. Is there a clear blue "C" shape extending from the New Mexico to the Wyoming border or is it broken in a few places? Is Denver surrounded by blue counties or is it a little blue island in a sea of red? Another important factor is watching how the bases compare in the vote totals. If El Paso County casts a larger Republican margin than Denver's Democratic one, the race is over (like in 2000) and Republicans have won statewide, probably by 6 or more points. If Boulder cancels out Colorado Springs (like in 2008,) the race is over and Democrats have probably won statewide by 4 or more points. To avoid a blowout, Democrats and Republicans have to keep El Paso County's (Colorado Springs) Republican margin between the Democratic margins of Boulder and Denver. Whether Colorado Springs's margin gets closer to Denver's or Boulder's determines who wins statewide. The most important thought to keep in mind though is who is winning Jefferson County? That one county voted only 0.2% away from Bennett's and Obama's combined statewide percentages, it is the most accurate barometer for Colorado and which candidate won the suburban moderates. That will determines who wins Colorado and possibly who the next President is. 

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