Monday, November 1, 2010

Crucial Western Voter Demographics

Long Term Trends Favor Democrats

A report from the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University shows that the rapid population growth in the West is driven by people in metropolitan areas. In key suburban swing counties, two demographic groups are fueling Democratic success: college educated voters and Hispanics. These key suburban counties that flipped from Bush to Obama in 2008 have both.

2004 Kerry/2008 Obama/Net Shift

  • Arapahoe County, CO 47.5%/ 55.3%/ +7.8
  • Larimer County, CO 46.6%/ 54.1%/ +7.5
  • Jefferson County, CO 46.6%/ 53.6%/ +7
  • Valencia County, NM 55.6%/ 43.3%/ +9.7
  • Sandoval, NM 48.1%/ 55.6%/ +7.5
  • Washoe, NV 47.0%/ 55.2%/ +8.2

In addition, these key suburban/urban counties all showed movement toward Obama:

2004 Kerry/2008 Obama/Net Shift

  • Maricopa County, AZ 42.3%/ 44%/ +1.7
  • Ada County, ID 37.7%/ 45.9%/ +8.2
  • Clark County, NV 51.7%/ 58.4%/ +6.7
  • Salt Lake County, UT 37.5%/ 48.7%/ +11.2

Although these areas may swing in 2010, the long-term future is favorable for Democrats.

The Influence of Hispanic Voters in the West Will Continue to Grow

Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic group in the country and their long-term influence in American politics will continue to grow over the next decade. As with all other demographic groups in the West, we expect their overall turnout to be lower than during the 2008 Presidential election. However, it is important to note that the population is young and their percentage of the voting population will continue to expand. Although Latino voters in the West have favored Democrats in the past, it is critical to remember that Latino voters are not a monolithic voting bloc in terms of language preferences, ideology, or issue priorities. Education continues to be a key motivator for this community as it connects a host of values that they rank highly: living the American dream, opportunity, and family.

  • In Nevada, 50% of Hispanic voters reported jobs and the economy as the most important issue in determining who to vote for.[1]
  • In Texas, 95% of Hispanic voters thought creating jobs and improving the economy was an important factor in deciding to vote in this year’s election. 96% of TX Hispanic voters felt that ensuring children receive the education they need in order to succeed in the future was important in determining to vote.[2]
  • In a large-scale study of Hispanic voters in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, PNW found that:

o 92% say that they are proud to be an American;

o 84% say that they take care of elders in their families;

o 59% display the American flag on their home, car, or workplace.[3]

Independent Voters Remain Key to the West

Many western voters pride themselves as being more independent from political parties than voters in other regions of the country. In states such as Arizona and Colorado, a full third of the electorate are not registered with a political party but are registered as Unaffiliated or Independent.

  • Since 2000, the swing states of Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada have all seen a significant increase in the percentage of registered Independent voters and a decrease in the percent of registered Republicans. In New Mexico, the numbers are constant, with a large Democratic registration edge (see Appendix D, pages 15-16 for voter registration trends).

In 2004, 2006, and 2008, these voters often made the critical difference in close elections up and down the ballot throughout the West. The elections of then-Governor Janet Napolitano (AZ-2002), then-Senator Ken Salazar (CO-2004), Governor Brian Schweitzer (MT-2004), Senator John Tester (MT-2006), Congressman Walt Minnick (ID1-2008), Senator Mark Udall (CO-2008), and Senator Tom Udall (NM-2008) are examples of successful Democrats that captured Independent voters. Independent voters chose pragmatic, non-ideological candidates who address the issues most directly related to quality of life: jobs, schools, conservation, and infrastructure like roads, water, and essential public safety services. To win Independent voters, the most successful candidates are seen as being above partisan politics and able to work together to accomplish their goals.

In this election, Independent voters are very much up for grabs. In a recent qualitative and quantitative research project conducted by PNW of these registered Unaffiliated voters in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, we found that they remain resolutely independent from party labels and are feeling extremely sour towards both political parties.

  • 69% of these Unaffiliated voters said that Democrats in Congress were doing only a fair or poor job. Similarly, 68% said Republicans in Congress were doing only a fair or poor job.[4]
  • However, these Independent voters gave Democrats in Congress an edge on being the party that “focused on creating new jobs” and “stands with regular people.”[5]
  • Many Independent voters tend to be younger (18-49) and are not affiliated with a political party because they are newer to the process.

[1] Chambers Lopez & Gaitán, LLC, Grove Insight & Myers Research Poll in Nevada; 600 Hispanic Likely Voters Statewide; Aug 14-19, 2010

[2] Grove Insight & Myers Research Poll in Texas; 500 Hispanic Likely Voters in Harris, Hidalgo, and Cameron Counties; Aug 24-31, 2010

[3] PNW 2008 Hispanic Voter Research Project; 2000 Likely Voter Interviews

[4] Grove Insight & Myers Research Poll in AZ, CO, NV; 900 Unaffiliated Voters; June 24-30, 2010

[5] Grove Insight & Myers Research Poll in AZ, CO, NV; 900 Unaffiliated Voters; June 24-30, 2010