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Roughly 240,000 Colorado voters changed their party affiliations since 2014

A look at party changes, voter decisions
Roughly 240,000 Colorado voters changed their party affiliations since 2014
Posted at 6:21 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 13:55:10-05

More than 2.1 million Colorado voters have already cast their ballots for the 2020 election. That includes more than 760,000 unaffiliated voters in the state.

Since 2014, nearly 240,000 voters have chosen to switch their party affiliations. Many of those who decided to switch left one of the two main political parties to become unaffiliated voters.

Blue, Red and Purple

Sandra Fish is a data journalist for the Colorado News Collaborative and the Colorado Sun and found 65,868 Republicans and 47,838 Democrats switched their affiliation to unaffiliated, as The Sun reported.

“The Republican party numbers are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 2014. A lot of people have either left the party or they aren’t registering as Republicans anymore,” Fish said.

Fish decided to look at data from 2014 as a comparison since it was the last time both U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Gov. John Hickenlooper were on a statewide ballot.

There is also an uptick in the number of new registrants filing as unaffiliated.

“You’ve got more than a half-million new voters and most of those are 40 or under, and most of those are registering as unaffiliated,” Fish said.

Colorado is one of 21 states that allows people to register to vote or change their affiliation right up to and on Election Day.

The data gathered by Fish and The Sun also found some changes from unaffiliated voters to align with different political parties; Fish found that 46,828 changed their registration to Democratic while 30,481 changed to Republican.

There was also movements between the two major parties themselves: 13,066 Democrats changed to Republicans while 14,907 Republicans changed to Democrats.

Why voters change parties

“There’s a lot of reasons people might switch parties,” said Robert Preuhs, a political science professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “A lot of it has to deal with ideological possessions, and so the folks that feel that either their party has moved away from them or that they personally moved away from their party.”

The personalities of politicians can also cause party switches.

There are some advantages to registering as one major party or another. For one thing, they are able to participate in part caucuses. However, unaffiliated voters are now able to participate in primaries for either party in Colorado, though that is not the case in all states.

“There are certainly benefits to being unaffiliated. The parties can’t track you down and they don’t know exactly which way you lean,” Preuhs said.

However, Fish predicts that there may be even more changes after the 2020 election, such as removing party affiliations from certain races altogether like the clerk and recorder or sheriff candidates.

In general, though, Preuhs says the breakdown of unaffiliated voters tends to mirror the ways partisan voters cast their ballot and that more tend to vote democrat than republican.

Beyond that, the idea of being unaffiliated might be a bit if a misnomer.

“About 90 percent of unaffiliated voters tend to vote with the same party year after year, so even though they’re technically unaffiliated they’re still really partisan in some fashion,” Preuhs said.

The Math Behind Making a Decision

On the University of Colorado Boulder campus, researchers are using math to try to determine how people make decisions.

Zack Kilpatrick, the co-author of a new study that considers decision making, found that there are two types of decision makers — those who make up their minds quickly and those who take more time to deliberate.

Whether deciding on which presidential candidate to pick or which phone plan to buy, decisions are made similarly. People combine their personal research with social evidence (what their peers are saying) to make up their minds.

The data found that hasty deciders can have an influence on others.

“We found that people in these groups make decisions in waves – where the quickest person to make a decision will end up triggering a wave of decisions in a bunch of their friends that tend to agree with them,” Kilpatrick said. “This would be like somebody announcing on Twitter who they’re going to vote for and that may trigger hundreds of other people to think maybe they should vote for that person too.”

There is a benefit to hasty deciders: they may encourage someone who hasn’t made up their mind or who is dragging their feet to come to a conclusion.

On the other hand, too many hasty deciders may drive communities to make a wrong choice, Kilpatrick said.

“It’s OK to have people that make decisions quickly so long as you balance that in the group with a lot of people that are deciding more deliberately,” Kilpatrick said.

For voting in particular, Kilpatrick believes mail ballots improve the accuracy for people to make a decision that adequately reflects their beliefs since they have time to research each issue and don’t feel rushed in a polling booth.

For Kilpatrick, the bottom line is for voters to be aware of who is influencing their decisions and why.

“What these models really tell us is that it’s extremely important to consider and figure out the quality of the information source that you’re pulling from and also the biases of the information source that you’re pulling from,” he said.