How Unaffilated Voters Swept Republicans Out of Office

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Colorado's Republican Party is picking up the pieces from perhaps the most disastrous election for the party in recent memory, one in which Democrats swept every state office and now control the legislature.

And now we know how big of a role the state's unaffiliated voters had in shaping this fall's election. Not only did unaffiliateds account for the largest bloc of voters this fall — about 34 percent of the total vote — it was the massive surge in unaffiliated turnout that led to so many wins for Democrats. 

Republican-leaning firm Magellan Strategies released a post-election poll of unaffiliated voters, showing their strong dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and their increasingly blue hue.

Overall, approval of President Trump stands at just 31 percent among unaffiliated voters, compared to 62 percent of those who disapprove — a two-to-one ratio that had a toxic effect on Republican candidates statewide. Unaffiliated voters supported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis over Republican Walker Stapleton by a 59-25 margin, according to the poll.

"Based on this survey data, it is quite clear that any association with Donald Trump and his policies harmed Republican candidates in most parts of Colorado," Magellan Strategies' David Flaherty wrote in the poll report.

"Time will tell if the 2018 election was an acceleration of the Republican Party's waning ability to win statewide elections in Colorado."

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The poll showed that 48 percent of Colorado's unaffiliated voters "strongly" disapproved of Trump's performance as commander-in-chief, compared to just 16 percent who "strongly" approved. Even with a huge turnout surge among unaffiliated voters this year, only 57 percent voted, compared to 71 percent of both Democrats and Republicans.

The poll's results indicate that Colorado Republicans have a massive problem on their hands. Unaffiliated voters are by far the fastest-growing group of voters, skyrocketing from 31 percent of voters in 2010 to nearly 36 percent in 2014 and up to nearly 38 percent now. That's a massive change in just eight years, and one that threatens to keep Republicans out of most statewide offices if unaffiliated voters continue to reject the GOP at rates similar to what we saw this fall.

"[The 2018 election] was extraordinary because in the past twenty years, never has one political party been so overwhelmingly rejected at every level of representative government by the electorate," the report reads. "Time will tell if the 2018 election was an acceleration of the Republican Party's waning ability to win statewide elections in Colorado or a sobering period of clarity that sparked a new direction for the GOP."

The numbers from November 6 were staggeringly bad for Colorado Republicans. Polis didn't just win the gubernatorial election — he won by approximately 11 percent, a near-historic landslide by Colorado's traditionally purple standards. GOP incumbent Mike Coffman lost by over 11 percent in the historically competitive 6th Congressional District. Republican Attorney General candidate George Brauchler came the closest of any Republican running for statewide office to win, and even his defeat wasn't close, the loss coming in at more than 6 percent. And Democrats captured 41 of 65 seats in the state House of Representatives.

Now, national analysts are wondering whether Colorado is even still a swing state heading into the 2020 cycle (and Republican Senator Cory Gardner is inevitably sweating bullets about his 2020 re-election campaign), and it's got state Republicans publicly soul-searching about the party's next moves.

"There is a very real probability that 2018 will be known as the election when it became apparent that the Republican Party no longer has the voter registration numbers to be competitive in Colorado," the report concluded. "For the past ten years there have been warning signs in voter registration and turnout trends, resulting in a historic Democratic wave bigger than 2006 or 2008."