by elpresidente | 1:26 am, September 29, 2011 | Comments Off
A few folks took umbrage with my posts on the number of unaffiliateds that exist in the state, noting that the number should instead focus on the divide between “active” and “inactive” voters.
A week or so later, the Denver Post published this article, looking at the number of unaffiliateds–and found what appeared to be results opposite of my own:
With 14 months until next year’s presidential election, unaffiliated voters have seen consistent declines in both 2010 and 2011 in a state where roughly a third of the residents are either Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated — voters often casually referred to as independents.
In 2010, 771,325 active unaffiliated voters accounted for about 31 percent of the electorate. Republicans made up 35 percent, and Democrats 33 percent.
In August, active unaffiliated voters dropped to 29 percent, while Republicans rose to 37 percent and Democrats remained even at 33 percent.
Here’s what my post had to say:
The most current voter registration numbers show Republicans with a slight partisan advantage over Democrats, but with both parties falling increasingly behind the burgeoning unaffiliated segment (total registered voters):
This is a change from the time of the election in November 2010:
While none of the numbers are incorrect, the data I was looking at focused on long term trends–through the years via a month-by-month analysis of total registered voters. It is the characterization that is in dispute between my post and the article in the Post, which looked exclusively at “active” voters. Doing what I do best, let’s look at those numbers from November 2008 through the latest data available from the Secretary of State’s office for August 2011.
Looking at Figure 1 of total active voters (Republicans in red, Democrats in blue, UAFs in green) we see that ALL THREE groups took a nose dive following the 2010 midterm election, an election that featured a turnout of approximately 1,820,000 of 2,477,000 active voters (73%). This is close to the ballot returns reported by the SOS in a county-by-party analysis, which showed these partisan returns:
Grand total ballots–1,829,711
The Post’s article looks at the number of UAFs in October 2010–771,325. I’ve highlighted that month in Figure 2, below (l-r: Dems, Reps, UAFs). Notice how drastically those numbers fall in the following month, after the number of active voters has been readjusted to reflect turnout from the November 2010 midterm election. Democrats saw turnout fall 200,000 below their active numbers, while Republicans saw around 150,000 active voters skip out. The number of UAFs fell 290,000–the biggest dip of all three groups.
You may also note that throughout 2010 (following a noticeable correction from October-November 2009), that unaffiliateds added 55,000 active voters, Republicans 42,000, and Democrats inched up 12,000 from November 2009 to October 2010.
The Post only cites one number figure (October 2010 for unaffiliateds, but refers to 2010 as a whole), but points to percentages for the duration of the article, without noting the very different number of actives that have built up over the past year. This comes as a result of the recovery or “reactivation” of voters as they replied to inactive-failed-to-vote response postcards or are simply a newly registered voter (all newly registered voters are automatically “active” according to the SOS).
Take a look at the percentages of each respective group as their numbers are recalculated against the total number of active voters in Figures 3 and 4. After a rather impressive Republican turnout in November 2010, one that saw them recapture the State House, Treasurer, Secretary of State and two Congressional seats in addition to retaining the office of Attorney General, but failing to win the big prizes of Governor and U.S. Senate, the percentage of Republicans and unaffiliateds has changed rather drastically. The pre-election percentages of 35.3 R, 32.8 D, and 31.1 UAF became 39.5 R, 33.6 D, and 26.3 UAF. Those figures now stand at 37.5 R, 32.5 D, and 29.2 UAF.
The Post looked at the pre-election figure of 31% and followed that up with the current 29% for UAFs. In contrast, looking at actual turnout against current numbers, UAFs have increased 3%, while Republicans are now 2% lower and Democrats are off one point.
In other words, looking at the graph and the statistical chart, the percentage–the measurement used by the Post–shows that the post-2010 numbers show a decline in both Republicans and Democrats, while UAFs once again pick up “active” voters for any of the variety of reasons mentioned above at a faster rate than the other two groups (giving them a larger slice of the recovery pie). There are now 130,000 more active UAF voters, 65,000 more Republicans, and 67,000 Democrats than there were in the November 2010 election.
According to Rich Coolidge at the SOS office, actives/inactives by county and by party extend only as far back as the 2008 election. But even using the numbers from the last three years, we can discern some other meaningful calculations.
Looking at the first set of numbers from Figure 5, we see the total number of current active voters measured against three important points in time. First, using December 2008, we can see that through the 2010 midterm election, Democrats have lost 160,000 active voters, Republicans have lost 70,000, and UAFs 112,000. Measured against the loss of total active voters among the three groups, Democrats comprise 47% of the dip, with UAFs at 33%, and Republicans at 20%.
The third set–the one used as the baseline for the Post’s story, shows the decline viewed in earlier charts. All three groups have lost voters in the active classification. UAFs make up 41% of that loss–no surprise to the consultants quoted in the article.
Midterms feature lower turnouts than Presidential contests do. The state average of 73% of active voters in 2010 stands in contrast to the much higher number, around 91%, for the election in 2008. The “big ticket” draw of the Presidential ballot isn’t present in years like 2010, hence the lower turnout for all three groups, but especially the UAFs.
Now, looking at the number of active voters in the second set of numbers in Figure 5, we see a much different story. The approximate number of actual active voters for all three categories can be found in the November–not October 2010 number the Post used. Looking at that chart, we see both Democrats and Republicans picking up actives in the mid-60,000 range, but UAFs doubling their rolls at over 132,000. In other words, of all the new active voters since the November 2010 election, UAFs account for just under half, with Ds and Rs splitting the rest down the middle. Given the methods for “reactivation,” UAFs are coming back in a hurry.
So rather than “consistent declines in both 2010 and 2011″ as the Post says, unaffiliated active voters have dramatically increased since the 2010 election. Using the Post’s methodology, all three groups showed rather significant declines using October 2010 pre-election numbers.
I would argue that voter trends–and turnouts–are more important than where any particular group stood at any point in time. Methodology and the conclusions from the application of the same can give you wildly different results. The Post’s numbers aren’t faulty, as I’ve confirmed them here. But by choosing October 2010 as the baseline, it becomes easier to conclude unaffiliateds are on the decline, when in fact all three categories have declined. Heading into 2012, it’s their recovery that has my attention.
The real story here, aside from the post-midterm dip and recovery of the amorphous active voter rolls, is that even with a heavy partisan advantage, state Republicans were not able to continue the “wave” that hit in so many other states in 2010. Unaffiliated voters, both active and inactive, decide Colorado’s elections. In 2010, for example, they helped John Suthers win a second stint in the AG’s office, but rejected Ken Buck’s run for U.S. Senate (the different results are most telling in battleground counties like Arapahoe and Jefferson that have large UAF populations).
In 2008, energized Democrats creeping on the heels of Republicans in both total registered and active voters used a surge in UAF support to deliver the state’s 9 electoral votes to Sen. Barack Obama to the tune of a 215,000 vote margin.
I’ll be watching those trends and looking at historical data, just as the pollsters do, to see where the voters are in 2012, both active and inactive.
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