Why Most Coloradans Want People to Stop Moving Here

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
A recent poll reports that a majority of Colorado respondents favor restricting development to dissuade people from moving here, and would prefer that the state's rate of population growth either slow down or recede — and while the organization that commissioned the survey may have a conservative agenda, many of the reasons people gave for rolling up the welcome mat involve the environment.

Although even more folks are concerned about traffic getting worse.

The poll of 1,024 likely Colorado voters was conducted June 12-16 by Rasmussen Reports at the behest of Virginia's NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation, which launched a website called on September 7 in part to provide a platform for the survey. The announcement of the site's debut notes that the officially nonpartisan foundation "educates opinion leaders, policymakers and the public on immigration legislation, policies and their consequences. We favor reductions in immigration numbers toward traditional levels that would allow present and future generations of Americans to enjoy a stabilizing U.S. population and a high degree of individual liberty, mobility, environmental quality, worker fairness and fiscal responsibility."

NumbersUSA attempts to blunt assumptions that these policies are based in race with a statement from founder and CEO Roy Beck titled "'No' to Immigrant Bashing" that is prominently placed on its website. "From our beginning in 1996," it begins, "we have urged our fellow Americans who are concerned about immigration to refrain from anger toward the foreign born who live among us. In a quarter-century of speeches across the country and in our videos (viewed by millions), I have repeatedly made the appeal that I make to you as you read this: If you get angry about the problems that we show are a result of immigration policies, don't get angry at immigrants but at the government officials who are responsible for the policies."

The home page of contends that the loss of more than 1,200 miles of open space between 1982-2017 in Colorado "was overwhelmingly a result of a single phenomenon: 86 percent of rural land loss was related to POPULATION GROWTH." The site estimates that "about 1,038 square miles of rural land was developed to handle the additional consumption caused by Colorado having 2.5 million more people in 2017 than in 1982."

Many of the questions posed by Rasmussen Reports in its NumbersUSA survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent, use information like this as a jumping-off point. For instance, 61 percent of poll-takers said that commercial development of open space, natural or agricultural land made Colorado a worse place to live; 70 percent rejected the idea that some of the water earmarked for agriculture should be designated instead for new residents; and 76 percent advocated for water in streams to be left in place to support wildlife.

Other queries concentrate more on the impact of growth, with 81 percent of respondents predicting that traffic will worsen if nearly two million more people settle in the state; 64 percent saying parks and neighborhoods have become noticeably more crowded given population increases over the past decade or so; and 63 percent concluding that putting the brakes on development was a good idea. In addition, the poll tosses in a question about immigration from foreign countries; the 53 percent who agreed represented one of the survey's smallest anti-growth majorities.

Rasmussen Reports is a favorite of officials and organizations that lean to the right. However, the polling website FiveThirtyEight, whose Nate Silver penned a post back in 2010 that argued against casually dismissing Rasmussen results because of bias concerns, currently gives it a "B" grade, thanks in part to an accuracy rating of 78 percent during the 2020 election. Eric Ruark, NumbersUSA's director of research, mentions FiveThirtyEight in touting Rasmussen Reports in a brief Q&A regarding the poll (below).

Here are the poll questions and responses regarding Colorado:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that Colorado, over the last four decades, has turned more than 1,250 square miles of Open Space, natural habitat, and agricultural land into housing, shopping malls, streets and other urban development. On balance, has this made Colorado a better place to live, a worse place to live, or did it not have much effect?"

Worse: 61 percent
Did not have much effect: 19 percent
Better: 14 percent
Not sure: 6 percent

Has Colorado developed too much, too little, or about as much as it should?

Too much: 61 percent
About right: 31 percent
Too little: 8 percent

If recent trends continue, Colorado demographers project that the state's human population of 5.8 million will grow by another 1.8 million by 2050, joining Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins together into a single "mega-city." Do you find this prospect to be more positive or more negative?

More negative: 76 percent
More positive: 13 percent
Not sure: 11 percent

If Colorado adds another 1.8 million residents, do you expect traffic to become much worse or would the government be able to build enough extra transportation capacity to accommodate the extra residents without more congestion?

Traffic will become much worse: 81 percent
The government could accommodate the extra residents without more congestion: 13 percent
Not sure: 6 percent

Colorado cities compete for scarce water with the agricultural industry, which relies on irrigation for most of its cropland. Should water used to cultivate crops be diverted to support additional human population growth?

Water should not be diverted from agriculture: 70 percent
Water should be diverted from agriculture: 15 percent
Not sure: 15 percent

Colorado is a mostly arid state with limited water in its streams and rivers. Is it more important for the remaining level of water in streams and rivers to be used to support wildlife habitat, fish and birds, or is it more important to use the remaining water in Colorado streams to support the projected increase of residents in the state?

Water should be kept in streams to support wildlife: 76 percent
Not sure: 13 percent
Water in streams should be used to support more residents: 11 percent

From an environmental standpoint, how important is it to preserve Colorado's mountains, native grasslands, rivers, forests, and canyons?

Very important: 78 percent
Somewhat important: 17 percent
Not very important: 2 percent
Not sure: 2 percent
Not at all important: 1 percent

A study of government data found that 86 percent or more of the depletion of Colorado’s Open Space, natural habitat, and farmland in recent decades was related to Colorado's rapid population growth. Would continuing this level of population growth into the future make Colorado better, worse or not much different?

Worse: 75 percent
Not much different: 11 percent
Better: 8 percent
Not sure: 6 percent

In recent years, have you sensed that Colorado's cities, parks, neighborhoods, schools, and roads have become much more crowded, somewhat more crowded, somewhat less crowded, or much less crowded?

Much more crowded: 64 percent
Somewhat more crowded: 28 percent
Not sure: 5 percent
Somewhat less crowded: 2 percent
Much less crowded: 1 percent

Colorado's population has approximately doubled since 1980. Would you prefer that Colorado’s population continue to rapidly grow, that it grow more slowly, that it stay about the same size, or that it become smaller?

Become smaller: 32 percent
Grow more slowly: 31 percent
Stay about the same: 27 percent
Continue to grow rapidly: 7 percent
Not sure: 3 percent

A major source of Colorado’s population growth is people moving in from other states, especially California. Should local and state governments in Colorado make it more difficult for people to move to Colorado from other states by restricting development?

Restrict development: 63 percent
Not sure: 19 percent
Don't restrict development: 17 percent

Another major source of Colorado’s population growth is immigration from other countries. Should the federal government reduce annual immigration to slow down Colorado's population growth, keep immigration and population growth at the current level, or increase annual immigration and population growth?

Reduce annual immigration: 53 percent
Keep immigration at its current level: 31 percent
Increase immigration: 8 percent
Not sure: 8 percent

In an email interview, NumbersUSA's Erik Ruark answered a few questions of ours:

Westword: What is the goal of the Colorado Sprawl website, when was it launched, and is it owned by and/or affiliated with NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation, which sponsored the poll?

Erik Ruark: Our goal is to raise public awareness of the environmental effects and quality-of-life issues that are caused by urban sprawl, population growth's role in driving that sprawl, and Coloradans' attitudes toward continued growth and development. We officially launched the website on September 7, 2022, and are gradually adding more pages. The full study will be published there. The website is owned by the NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation.

Is NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation a partisan organization — and if not, how would you describe it?

NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to educating opinion leaders, policymakers and the public. Our activists, staff, board and donors are moderates, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats and Independents who favor reductions in immigration numbers toward traditional levels that would allow present and future generations of Americans to enjoy a stabilizing U.S. population and a high degree of individual liberty, mobility, environmental quality, and worker fairness.

Is Rasmussen Reports, which conducted the poll, a partisan organization — and if not, how would you describe it?

Rasmussen Reports is a nonpartisan, nationally acclaimed polling organization with bipartisan staff. A FiveThirtyEight study found that Rasmussen's polling in the 2020 election cycle was the third most accurate of the 25 polling firms rated in the study. It also found that Rasmussen's "statistical bias," which calculates whether there is a bias toward one party or the other, was just 1 point, which tied for second best of all 25 firms.

How would you summarize the results of the poll?

The poll shows that Colorado's likely voters are overwhelmingly concerned about the drawbacks of urban sprawl when it comes to the loss of open spaces, destruction of wildlife habitat and their overall quality of life — and broadly favor measures to restrict the state's future growth.

Is the hope of those behind the Colorado Sprawl website that officials running for office in 2022 respond to the desire of most poll respondents to limit growth in the state?

Yes, absolutely! We hope that politicians and candidates in both parties recognize and respond to the bipartisan desire for lower growth.

Is there anything else on this subject that you feel is important to add?

It's notable that among voters in Colorado, there's overwhelming consensus that population growth comes with serious drawbacks, and solid majorities support measures such as discouraging large-scale migration from other states or restricting legal immigration levels. These results are similar to those found in other states and in polling of national voters, and it crosses party and ideological lines.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts