A new survey of the state of politics in Colorado during 2021 has revealed deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans around a wide range of issues—from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to how the country manages elections.
The findings are part of the latest Colorado Political Climate Survey, an annual project led by political scientists at CU Boulder. In 2021, the team partnered with the online polling company YouGov to take the temperature of a sample of 800 Colorado voters in the two weeks before the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
The results show how a tumultuous year in national politics has left its mark on the Centennial State.
Public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, for example, remained a hot-button issue in Colorado, even before the rise of the omicron variant. Nearly 85% of respondents who self-identified as Democrats told the pollsters they supported some form of mask mandates in the state. Only 21% of self-identified Republicans agreed.
“It’s really a story of two different pandemics,” said Anand Sokhey, associate professor of political science at CU Boulder.
Sokhey and his colleagues, who include undergraduate and graduate students, have conducted the survey since 2016—an effort that has allowed them to track the changing political landscape during a pivotal period for both the state and the nation. In the years since, for example, Democrats retained control of the governor’s mansion. They also hold majorities in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly.
Still, Sokhey said, those trends don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
“We’re definitely seeing Colorado creep blue,” Sokhey said. “But that, in some ways, masks not only the deep partisan divisions in the state, but also really deep differences between the Front Range and the Western Slope and the plains to the east.”
The survey results come at the end of year that began with unprecedented political divisiveness.
On Jan. 6, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building, falsely claiming the election had been stolen from them.
That distrust in the electoral process persisted throughout 2021, Sokhey said. Roughly 66% of the Democrats the team surveyed reported they believed “elections across the country will be conducted fairly and accurately.” Only 32% of Republicans and 40% of independents held similar faith in the country’s institutions.
“We’re seeing this rhetoric from people questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process, which began even before the 2020 presidential election and the assault on the Capitol, stick around in Colorado,” Sokhey said.
The group did find one upside for election watchers: Coloradans seemed to be more optimistic about voting locally. Roughly 68% of respondents (or 91% of Democrats, 45% of Republicans and 55% of independents) believed Colorado’s own elections would be fair in 2021.
“The distrust in elections is more muted when we ask about the state,” Sokhey said. “But it’s still there.”
When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, views still differed wildly between Democrats and Republicans. (The team spoke to Coloradans before the emergence of the current omicron variant.)
Almost all of the Democratic respondents supported some form of public health measures to slow the pandemic. Only about half of Republicans said the same. Overall, 40% of Coloradans (or 69% of Democrats and 9% of Republicans) said they’d like to see vaccine mandates of some kind. Most voters from all parties didn’t support efforts to close in-person schools, churches or businesses. On the other side, 78% of Democrats and a relatively high 32% of Republicans believed the government should fund the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Overall, Sokhey said, the results suggest politicians may want to step carefully in Colorado, moving into 2022.
“When the entire state is colored blue on election night maps, it can obscure the diverging politics we see in different parts of the state,” he said.