“It's official” that Obama needs Colorado and other western states to get a second term, a Brookings Institute scholar says. John McCain's “rural outreach” guy, Ford O'Connell, credited Colorado's Democrats with a “superior ground game” ready to roll in 2012. In building a “western” win, strategists advance several assumptions. Let's test them against Colorado data to uncover the flaws in this plan.
Claim #1: Anglos are a shrinking subset of all voters.
REALITY: In Colorado, at least, Anglo voters remain dominant – and change is within the margin of error.
US Census studies of Colorado voting show that in 2000 Anglos were 85.3%; in 2008, they were 84.7%. Between 2002 and 2010, the Anglo share dropped a scant 0.4%. Whether in presidential or gubernatorial cycles, there's little change. (Exit polls provide different number but, for Colorado at least, they have sampling problems.)
Claim #2: Non-Anglo voters are Democrats to the bone.
REALITY: Colorado's minority voters aren't as large a share of voters as in other states … and our Hispanics aren't as doctrinaire Democratic as elsewhere.
It's true that African-Americans, who averaged 3.5% of voters in the last six elections, are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. But as a small share of all voters, they are seldom crucial in statewide contests.
Hispanic voters made up 8.4% of Colorado's electorate in both '04 and '08, a stable share of the voting populace that's 1% larger than nationally. Our Hispanics are not, however, the same as Hispanics across the nation. The Obama advantage in exit polls here was 23%, but 36% nationally.
Can these voters be found, registered and turned out? After all, “the economic dislocations of the Great Recession have undone much of the organizing work that Democrats performed in 2008.” That helps explain the loss of 172,000 “active” registered Democrats in Colorado since the '08 election. By contrast, Republicans lost just 39,000.
Many Hispanic voters fall into the “young voter” demographic. Even in the Democratic landslide of 2008, Obama managed to add fewer than 20,000 additional young voters above the 2004 turnout. Since 2008 Census reports declining registrations have hit young voters (down 57,000 in Colorado) and minorities – African- and Hispanic Americans (down 16,000).
Different forecast methods suggest 2012 turnout of under 25 Coloradans as 8.8% or 9.8% of all voters. Both are lower than the Census report of 10%. Obama could face a decline in youth votes – who, as both minority and young voters, are a double key to his winning coalition.
Claim #3: Democrats do better at turnout than Republicans.
REALITY: Colorado's Republicans repeatedly win the turnout game.
This is a believable claim, what with the cash advantage and all the canvassing money spent by liberal 527/SuperPAC groups in Colorado – at least according to details provided by followthemoney.org.
Here are the data, from Colorado Secretary of State and Voter Contact Services.
2008 – Republicans, 81% registered (active + inactive voters) turnout; Democrats were 78%, a 46,000 Republican edge.
2010 – Republicans, 89% active voter turnout; Democrats were 70%, a 115,000 Republican edge.
Final claim: Colorado's Democrats have an election-winning voter registration effort.
REALITY: Democratic registration efforts did not change the outcome in 2008 and merely repeating 2008's efforts won't fix today's registration deficit.
In 2008, Democratic active voter numbers grew 19.9% from May to actual voting in November; all other voters, including Republicans, added about 12.5%. Let's say Dems' registration drives accounted for the percentage difference – and credit nothing to that year's very enthusiastic Democratic voters. That's 50,000 extra Democrats voting in '08.
The 118,000 active voter advantage Republicans currently have in Colorado wouldn't be cut in half if Democrats match their 2008 registration performance. Just this year Colorado's voter lists show more new active Republicans than Democrats.
Past Democratic wins rest on something other than a superb ground game and demographic “destiny.” Could it be that their success rests only on liberal special interest and labor union cash?
- Obama's contributions diminished last month and
- his SuperPAC donors are still sitting on their wallets and
- Colorado giving to SuperPACs has leaned to Romney.
Without a huge money advantage, is Obama's winning edge gone?
Sometimes a house of cards collapses from a seemingly minor nudge.