Below is a guest blog from authors Thomas E. Cronin and Robert D. Loevy. Their new book, Colorado Politics and Policy, is a revised and expanded look at the government, politics, and political traditions of this purple state.
Because the subtitle of our book is “Governing a Purple State,” many readers ask us: “Why is a once ‘reliably Republican’ state such as Colorado now a swing state, just as likely to vote Democratic as vote Republican?”
The answer is a simple one: “Because of the realignment of upper class, upper income, well-educated voters from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party."
Colorado is filled with high mountains and verdant valleys and lots of cattle grazing on the mountainsides. But the fact is most Coloradans live on a highly urbanized strip of land running from North to South for 150 miles at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains. In the center of this highly urbanized North/South corridor are Colorado’s two most populous cities – Colorado Springs and Denver.
The close-in suburbs of Denver and Colorado Springs are filled with upscale neighborhoods which, in the 1950s, were solid Republican. These suburbs are sometimes referred to as the “Eisenhower suburbs,” because Republican President Dwight Eisenhower carried them easily in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections. Eisenhower’s moderate brand of Republicanism was just right for these well-to-do professionals, who were doctors, lawyers, and salaried white collar workers. The men went to work in the popular “grey-flannel suits” of the time.
But things have changed since the Eisenhower days. The Republican Party largely has abandoned Eisenhower style moderation and gone hard to the right on social issues, strongly opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. Such positions do not sit well with the well-educated, high-income-earning residents of the close-in suburbs today. Their shift from Republican to Democratic is one of the major political realignments of our time.
For years in Colorado, the solid Republican support in the close-in suburbs enabled the Republicans to dominate much of Colorado politics. But those days are gone forever, and the rising strength of the Democratic Party in the close-in suburbs of Denver and Colorado Springs is what has made Colorado a swing state, particularly in the 2012 presidential election.
The old cliché that poor people vote Democratic and rich people vote Republican is no longer true in Colorado and in the remainder of the United States as well. A more accurate picture of the Colorado electorate is this:
1. Low-income people and wealthy well-educated people are mainly voting Democratic.
2. Working people with modest incomes, many of them regular churchgoers on Sundays, and who live in outer suburbs and rural areas, are voting Republican.
It is the almost even balance between these two groupings of voters that makes Colorado a “purple” state.