Colorado voters are tired of the Republican and Democratic Parties and the gridlock they have created in the state legislature. Now, one of the leading states for independents may have an opportunity to break up the two-party power structure.
These are the findings of a recent Centrist Project survey of over 2,000 likely Colorado voters. According to the survey:
- 53 percent of Colorado voters believe the two parties are not working together in the state legislature to solve problems facing constituents;
- 71 percent blame partisan gridlock on both major parties;
- An astounding 85 percent are open to voting for an independent candidate; and
- 78 percent believe independent candidates can “represent all of the people, not just those from their party."
"Combined, these insights paint a portrait of an electorate that is restive for a viable alternative to both Democrats and Republicans in 2018. Indeed, 48% of voters said that electing independents to the state legislature would 'improve how the government worked' while only 5% said it would make things worse," The Centrist Project writes.
Colorado has an active independent voter population -- registered as "unaffiliated" -- of 1.2 million voters, or 36 percent of the Colorado electorate. However, though independents make up the largest voting bloc in the state, they have zero representation in the 100-member state legislature.
The Centrist Project states that this is partly because not enough credible independent candidates run for elected office. These candidates "lack the support structure of volunteers, donors, and staff that the major parties provide."
However, if an independent candidate had the support structure, the survey suggests that they could mount a credible challenge against partisan incumbents or candidates in the two major parties, based on broad dissatisfaction and frustration with the two-party power structure in the state.
Eighty-five percent of the survey respondents said they would "definitely, probably, or maybe consider supporting an independent candidate for state legislature." A third of registered Republicans and Democrats said they are "definitely" open to voting for an independent candidate.
"Even among voters who said they “only” voted for Democrats or Republicans on their ballot, three quarters (74%) indicated they would consider voting for an independent," The Centrist Project reports. "This reflects findings elsewhere that growing partisanship in the electorate is more a function of a dislike of the “other” party rather than a love of one’s own."
Voters broadly agree that there is an appeal to electing an independent candidate. The vast majority of survey respondents believe that an independent could: "represent all of the people, find common ground between both parties, champion the best ideas, and remain free from the influence of partisan and special interests."
However, independent candidates face serious institutional and electoral barriers to getting elected, the biggest perhaps being the perception that independents cannot win elections. The largest concern among survey takers was that voting for an independent means they might waste their vote or cause their least favorite candidate to win.
A major paper by ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy, USC Schwarzenegger Institute, and Independent Voting, titled Gamechangers? Independent Voters May Rewrite the Political Playbook, explains that this perception is largely driven not only by the major parties, but by academia, the media, and pollsters who cling to the two-party model.
"It is important to note that when voters who said they are open to voting for independent candidates were asked if they would still consider voting that way 'even if it risked electing your least preferred candidate' – the vast majority (68%) said they would stick by their decision," The Centrist Project reports. "This included two thirds of Democrats (64%) and Republicans (64%) and three quarters of independents (78%), who collectively comprise 63% of the electorate."
Nationwide, The Centrist Project wants to provide independent candidates with the support structure they need to launch credible campaigns to break the two parties' hold on elections, and the political power structure. That is why they have endorsed gubernatorial candidates like Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes and independent Alaska Governor Bill Walker.
The Centrist Project found that the survey reveals similar opportunities in Colorado that exist in Maine, Alaska, and elsewhere.
"There is little doubt, based on this polling, that this coalition has the potential to carry an independent candidate to victory–– especially if the candidate is viewed as a person of integrity and is perceived as viable by voters," The Centrist Project writes.
The Centrist Project believes that electing just a handful of independents in state legislatures and the US Senate can break partisan gridlock, bring Republicans and Democrats to the table, and produce practical, long-lasting solutions to the greatest problems facing voters.
Read the complete findings from the survey: