Robert Frost once wrote a very short poem:
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
This is worth remembering as we look at the Colorado electorate and ask, as we periodically do, are we still a purple state?
That was the question on many lips after Democrats swept statewide offices, including Colorado’s governorship, in the 2018 elections, and achieved majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Our baseline for going purple is 2008, the magic year when unaffiliated voters and registrants in the Democratic and Republican parties in Colorado all converged at roughly 28.5 percent each of all voters, or a little more than a million votes apiece.
By 2012, Republicans and Democrats were still tied, but the number of unaffiliated voters had surpassed each of them. By 2016, that gap had widened further.
By 2018, Democrats slightly edged out Republicans in Colorado, while unaffiliated voters had surged to more than 40% of the state electorate, bleeding both parties.
And they kept growing.
As of December, the gap widened still further, with even more unaffiliated voters and continued losses for both Republicans and Democrats, with the losses slightly worse for Republicans, according to the office of the Colorado Secretary of State and The Colorado Sun.
Is there a ceiling for Coloradans who are disaffected, who are underwhelmed, who are indifferent? Could they keep growing until they consume both parties, rendering them lifeless husks of ideas about taxes and equality that ultimately left cold?
It sounds like a good idea, when we put it that way. If unaffiliated voters reached 50%, we might see some regeneration, perhaps a new party. That has not happened really since 1854. It could be another important way in which Colorado leads the nation while we wait for most of it to catch up with us on great purple initiatives such as redistricting and legalizing recreational pot.
The December report shows 29% of Colorado voters are Democrats and 28% are Republicans. As things stand, we are at risk of the tyranny of the minority no matter which party holds key offices or legislative majorities. The awareness of that is one of the things about the tenure of Gov. Jared Polis that we applaud so far. But as the 2020 legislative session progresses, it also should serve as a check on the impulses of either party to push their ideal agendas whenever they control both houses.
The new numbers serve as yet another kind of warning, since we will not get as clear a picture of the state electorate again. Under a new state law that takes effect in April, people who obtain driver’s licenses will automatically be registered to vote – and they will all be registered as unaffiliated, as the Sun reports.
According to the news site, Colorado’s move away from party identification seems to be driven by younger voters and by voters moving into the state, and was further strengthened after the election of Donald Trump, even as more than half of unaffiliated voters disapproved of his performance, according to some polls.
The secret still sits in the expanding middle, and what it knows is that in a time of increasing partisanship, it is indifferent to red or blue signs and wonders.
The undecided are not aliens, just normal folk. It is possible many exercise their tribalism by wearing orange and rooting for the Broncos – which is a safer affiliation because, win or lose, no one seems to think Vic Fangio knows whether an appeal of TABOR should be attempted or if Colorado parents can be forced to vaccinate their children.