DENVER, CO—With less than eight months remaining until the November 2012 election, the latest voter registration numbers for Colorado show a strong increase in the number of registered active unaffiliated voters.
Following a 2011 off-year election that featured the defeat of Proposition 103 along with many other proposed local tax measures, the readjusted numbers from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office show a remarkable increase in the number of unaffiliated voters in the period from November 2011 to February 2012. In that time, the number of active unaffiliated voters has risen from just over 615,000 to nearly 650,000, an increase of more than 33,000 voters.
Unaffiliated voters now account for 30.3 percent of the state’s active voters, out of a total of 2,143,196.
Over the same period, the number of Republican active voters has held steady, around 37.2 percent, or nearly 797,000 voters. The GOP has also seen a recovery in its active voter rolls following post-election adjustments made by the Secretary of State’s office through its post-2008 database overhaul.
While Democrats have edged up slightly—by a little more than 12,000 active voters since November—their overall share of the active voter in Colorado has actually decreased by half a percentage point, as the party fell below 32 percent in the first two months of 2012, at 31.7 percent. This is the lowest party affiliation for Democrats among active voters since the last presidential election in 2008.
Voter registration counts that include both party affiliation and distinguish between active and inactive status only extend as far back as 2008, according to Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge.
Colorado’s total voter registration stands at 3,390,639, including both active and inactive voters.
Local political shorthand makes frequent reference to the state’s voter bloc being sliced up into equal thirds, with 33 percent for Democrats, Republicans, and the state’s unaffiliated voters.
In 2008, this was the case, with Republicans at 33.2 percent, Democrats with 32.9 percent, and unaffiliateds with 33.3 percent of total registered voters.
Nearly four years later, however, the party registration statistics have shifted in favor of those eschewing party affiliation. Unaffiliated voters now sit at 35 percent of the vote, up nearly two percent since the 2008 election. There are approximately 1.2 million voters in Colorado sans party label, more than either party.
Both Republicans and Democrats have seen their overall share of voters decrease, to 32.5 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively.
The GOP once held substantial registration leads, with nearly 100,000 more voters than Democrats at the time of the 2004 election. Between President George W. Bush’s reelection and the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, Democrats were able to close the registration gap, and even took a partisan registration advantage between the 2008 election and the 2010 midterms.
The state also has a sizeable gender gap between male and female voters, with the number of active women voters from both parties exceeding men by approximately 115,000 voters. Almost all of the disparity in voter registration originates in the dozen “battleground” counties with the largest populations—from Larimer and Weld Counties to the north, down the Front Range, to Pueblo County in the south. Among all registered voters, almost all of the 115,000 vote difference in gender registration can be found in these populous, suburban districts, with men and women almost equally divided in the state’s remaining 52 rural counties.
The gender difference alone drives political calculation from both parties, with women favoring Democrats by a substantial margin in 2010 polling, even in races featuring a female Republican candidate, according to a report from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers (pdf).
The key counties surrounding the Denver metro area also comprise the largest contingent of unaffiliated female voters, which are sure to play a large role in the 2012 election.
Former GOP chairman Dick Wadhams believed that this constituency alone might have turned the tide in the contentious 2010 U.S. Senate race in Colorado, in statements he made after the 2010 midterm.
Political observers attributed the success of a handful of Democrats in an otherwise Republican-favored election cycle to exit polling showing women favoring the Democrat, as the Rutgers report later demonstrated. Then-appointed Sen. Michael Bennet led by 17 points over the Republican challenger, Ken Buck on election day.
Many believe that a focus on social issues at the wire by the struggling Democrat’s campaign, combined with allied groups’ substantial independent expenditures in the last weeks of the race, helped Bennet eke out a win in a contest many viewed as the GOP’s to lose.