Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Conclusions

This is the last part of a series of posts analyzing the swing state Colorado.


Colorado is much like the previous state analyzed in this series: Virginia. Both states were seen until recently as Republican strongholds and rightfully so; President George W. Bush handily won both states in 2004 and 2000.

Yet in 2004, both states showed signs of shifting Democratic. Virginia barely moved Republican even as the South swung heavily against Senator John Kerry. As for Colorado Рit actually shifted 3.7% more Democratic, against the national tide. Indeed, in 2004 Mr. Kerry performed better in Colorado than he did in Florida.

This shift cumulated in the 2008 presidential election, which showed both Colorado and Virginia as influential swing states. Colorado has thus turned from a red state into a purple state. In doing so, the Democratic Party has carved out the following coalition:

Edited NYT Image

Democratic gains since 1992 follow the “C” pattern that was also present in the actual 2008 county results. This is a pattern that is present in other parts of the country, as previous posts have observed. Democrats have generally improved along the Front Range, and especially in the Denver metropolis. They have also gained in two Republican strongholds: Colorado Springs and neighboring Douglas County.

On the other hand, Republicans have gained in several historically Democratic-voting Hispanic counties near Pueblo. They have also improved in the thinly populated rural stretches of east and west Colorado.

All in all, these changes have benefited Democrats more. This is because their gains have been in the more populated areas of Colorado:

The heart of Colorado is therefore in the Denver metropolis, as the map indicates. Since 1992 Democrats have improved in all but one of the orange and red counties. In 2000 Mr. Bush won seven of the eleven highlighted counties. In 2008 Mr. Obama won seven of them. This is responsible for Colorado’s 17.3% leftward shift from 2000 to 2008.

This leftward shift has not turned Colorado into a blue state, but rather into a vitally important swing state. Say, for instance, that Mr. Obama had tied Senator John McCain in the popular vote. North Carolina and Indiana would have immediately flipped Republican. This would be followed by the traditional swing states Florida and then Ohio. Virginia would flip Republican next; Mr. Obama would lose by less than a percent. At this point Mr. McCain would have 262 electoral votes.

And there he would remain. In a tied election, Colorado would go by 1.7% to Mr. Obama, handing the senator 272 278 electoral votes and the presidency.

In the 2008 presidential election, therefore, Colorado was the most important state to win. It may remain thus in 2012.

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10 Responses to Analyzing Swing States: Colorado, Conclusions

  1. Brett Heffner says:

    GWB actually improved slightly from 2000 to 2004 in Virginia. The only Southern state where Kerry improved over Gore was slighty in NC, and only due to John Edwards being on the ticket. The other states where Kerry outperformed Gore were Ohio, NH, Nevada, and northern Plains and northwestern states.

  2. bonncaruso says:

    I did what is probably the most extensive county by county analysis of CO that you can find out there in 2009. Take a look at it. It is in 3 parts.

    And yes, CO, with NM and NV and VA should become quasi-firewall states in 2012 to gurarantee that Obama gets to 270. He can even do it without even one of the trifecta states: OH, PA and FL. But most likely, if statistical probability holds out, he will win them all.

  3. Brett Heffner says:

    Michael Bennet won the nation’s closest US Senate race of 2010 by a little under one point. The “C” is clearly there and he carried Arapahoe, Jefferson, and Larimer Counties by 1-3 points each.

    Also, Nevada will be part of Obama’s firewall and winning either Colorado or Virginia does it for him in 2012 regardless of Ohio or Florida. More outside money was spent in Colorado than in any other US Senate race due (to my belief) Electoral-College strategy. Virginia had no statewide races in 2010, but the positions will be reversed in 2012, with Virginia having the US Senate race and Colorado only having the SOS race statewide. Therefore, we can’t expect Colorado to turn out as well as in 2008 and Obama’s chance of carrying there (to me) is slightly less than that of carrying Virginia. I welcome any thought of debate here.

  4. Ron says:

    Colorado was one of Obama’s three firewall states in 2008(the others were Iowa and New Mexico). He consistantly led in these states the whole campaign(even when McCain took a brief lead in September) and probably would have won the electoral college even if McCain ended up winning the popular vote because of Colorado.

    Because of reapportionment, Obama will have to add another state like Virginia, Ohio, or Florida to the firewall.

    • inoljt says:

      Hmm…Democratic states (such as New York and Massachusetts) are probably going to lose electoral votes to Republican states (such as Arizona and Texas). On the other hand, Republican states that are gaining electoral votes are in the process becoming less Republican. So you’re probably right that the math’ll be a bit harder for Obama in 2012.

      On the other hand, I don’t really see a situation coming up where this will matter much. My gut instinct of 2012 is that Obama will either win by more than his margin in 2008 – or he’ll lose big. That’s historically been what’s happened with incumbents.

    • Brett Heffner says:

      Virginia has the best chance of joining the firewall.

  5. Brett Heffner says:

    You’re right about Colorado being the central state to the Electoral College in 2008. It also is the only state with an even PVI. I don’t know how much a role hosting the Democratic convention in Denver had in augmenting Obama’s margin in Colorado above and beyond the national popular-vote average. I noticed that you undercounted Obama’s electoral votes in case of a virtual tie. Kerry won states totalling 252 EV’s and Obama would have won all of these plus Iowa’s seven, Colorado’s nine, and five each from Nevada and New Mexico, for a total of 278 to McCain’s 260. In such a scenario, had Colorado’s voters approved splitting its EV’s according to percentage of its vote, it wouldn’t have mattered—Obama would still have won 274-264. For 2012, the center of the electoral vote may remain in Colorado, or it may shift to Virginia’s 13 EV’s.

    • inoljt says:

      Thanks for the correction and the comment; I don’t know how I got 272; the actual number is 278. As for Colorado and the Democratic convention, that is in fact something that, I think, did move Colorado to be more Democratic than it otherwise would have been (much like Minnesota was less Democratic than historically, due in my opinion in part to the Republican National Convention). Obama actually won Colorado by more than any other candidate since Reagan in 1984 – which belies the commonly thought-of Republican nature of the state.

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