From November of 2006 to November of 2008, the Obama campaign, the Democratic Party and Democrat-leaning organizations executed a voter registration drive that yielded huge gains for Democratic registration in Colorado. With 60 field offices, nearly unlimited financial resources, a once-in-a-lifetime candidate and the perfect anti-Republican environment, 151,310 Democrats were added to voter rolls. Unaffiliated registrants also increased by 56,320. Although these unaffiliated voters did not choose to affiliate with the Democratic Party, they were registering to vote so that they could participate in a historic election that would elect the first African-American President. During this time, Republican registration actually decreased in Colorado by 5,040. The registration changes during this period would erase a long-held Republican voter registration advantage of 165,423 individuals, making Colorado a more level playing field for Democratic candidates.
If you are in the business of political polling and survey research, like we are here at Magellan Strategies, you must study voter registration trends closely. The primary reason being that the demographics of the registered or likely voting population are incredibly important to producing an accurate voter survey. If you were a pollster back in 2008, and did not recognize the dramatic changes taking place in voter registration and how they would impact the demographics of the likely voting population, it is likely your survey would have missed the mark.
Looking ahead to the 2016 election, we think that one relevant question to ask is whether or not there will be another surge of Democratic or unaffiliated voters here in Colorado. From reviewing the new voter registrant data since December of 2015, the short answer is no. At least not at this time.
As of July 1st of this year, total voter registration (active and inactive voters) in Colorado is approximately 3,620,651 individuals. Registration by party affiliation is 32% Democrat, 31% Republican, 35% unaffiliated and 2% belonging to other parties. Since December of 2015, 146,635 new voters have registered in Colorado. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these voters are young, with 65% (94,545) being 18 to 34 years old. The following graph shows all new registrants by party.
These data show that while there has not been a significant surge in Democratic or unaffiliated registration, the Democratic Party has added 11,391 more voters to the rolls than the Republican Party. However, the real significant figure to note is that nearly half (44%) of new registrants are choosing to be unaffiliated. Less than 1 in 4 new registrants are choosing to register as Republicans, a trend which should concern those interested in the future of the Republican Party. The fact is that the decline of new registrants and younger voters identifying as Republican in Colorado is a trend that has been underway since 2004. (see our December 2015 blog post about this topic)
Over the next few months we will be keeping a close watch on the demographics of new registrants in Colorado. Currently, it does not appear that a dramatic surge of Democratic registration is underway, but things could change. If the Republican Party is to be competitive in November, it would be smart to continue efforts to add new voters to their own rolls, rather than simply hoping that with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, the Democrats don’t execute as well as they did in 2012. We shall see.