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Partisan beliefs influence views on election security in Colorado, survey finds

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BOULDER, Colo. — Even though Colorado’s voting system is often regarded as one of the most efficient in the country, not all Coloradans believe so.

It comes down to partisanship: Democrats often believe in the integrity of the voting system, while Republicans generally remain more skeptical. This is all according to survey research from the American Politics Research Lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

With unfounded claims of massive voter fraud rampant, some Coloradans fear their votes won’t get counted accurately. The Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) is speaking with nonpartisan experts to help voters understand more about the integrity of the vote.

Anand Sokhey is an associate professor in CU Boulder’s Political Science Department and directs the American Politics Research Lab, which tracks voter attitudes in Colorado to better understand how elections are viewed across the state. Since 2016, the lab has conducted annual political climate surveys each fall in partnership with YouGov, a national polling company. 

Last year, the survey began asking Coloradans questions about their perceptions about the fairness of the electoral process. COLab spoke with Sokhey to understand the results of the most recent survey.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

How are Coloradans feeling about our national elections process, according to the results of the most recent survey published in 2021?

We asked people as a starting point whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “Elections across the country will be conducted fairly and accurately.” We found that agreement on that was at 49%, disagreement was at 37%, and we had 14% of our respondents saying they weren’t sure. 

Now, if we break that out by [party], based on our respondents’ self-identified partisanship, … we see these partisan splits on a question like this. So, while overall 49% of Coloradans were agreeing that elections across the country would be conducted fairly and accurately, that jumps among Democrats to 66% agreeing with that statement. But it drops among Republicans to only 32% agreeing with that statement.

What about our state elections process here in Colorado?

With respect to Colorado, people seem to express a little bit more confidence in and support for what’s going on where they live versus nationally.

So we asked them to agree or disagree with the statement: “Elections in Colorado will be conducted fairly and accurately.” Those numbers rise to about 68% of Coloradans agreeing with that statement and only 12% said they weren’t sure. 

If you look at that by partisanship with Colorado, 91% of Democrats agree that elections in the state are going to be conducted fairly and accurately. Among Republicans, it drops, but it’s not quite as dramatic as it did for the national assessment: 45% of Colorado Republicans agree with that statement, 40% disagree with it and 16% say they’re not sure. 

Among independents in our sample, we saw that 55% of them agree that elections in Colorado would be conducted fairly and accurately. 

So overall, there’s more confidence in the conduct of elections in Colorado versus when you ask about broad national assessments or dynamics, but you’re definitely still seeing partisanship play into this.

Why do you think partisanship influences people’s perceptions of our election processes?

With Democrats, you saw them responding for perhaps two different reasons when you ask them about whether or not elections across the country are going to be conducted fairly and accurately. There’s confidence in those in charge of the federal government with [Democrat Joe] Biden being in the White House. But there’s a concern, for example, among Democrats that in certain red states, efforts are going to be made to suppress the vote.

Republicans are not expressing as much confidence nationally. One, because of Trump rhetoric. But two, because they’re thinking about the constellation of blue versus red states. In some ways, when you ask the national confidence questions, you see these accentuated differences on both sides for different reasons, assuming the other side has worse intentions.

Do Coloradans believe there need to be reforms to voting laws?

This would be asking them to think about the 2020 elections. So we said: “How much do you agree or disagree that the election showed that we need to make changes to voting laws across states?” 

You saw 63% of our respondents agree that we needed to see voting laws change across states. But again, the breakouts there were definitely different by party. A majority (53%) of Democrats agreed with that statement, 40% of them disagreed, and 8% weren’t sure. [Most] Republicans (78%) agree with that statement of our Colorado sample, 14% disagree and 8% were not sure. 

When you ask about the need for reforms based on the 2020 presidential election, you’re seeing [Coloradans] give their assessment of whether reforms are needed nationally, based on these kinds of partisan dynamics.

We then asked about whether the 2020 presidential election showed that we need to make changes to voting laws in Colorado. Only 41% of our sample overall agreed and 45% disagreed. But there again, the partisan splits are huge. Only 25% of Democrats agreed, and most (64%) disagreed. But among Colorado Republicans, 61% agreed that we need to see changes in Colorado, and only 24% disagreed. 

It’s an interesting projection of national politics onto local politics, even though, overall, you see people expressing more support for electoral processes in the state where they reside versus thinking about what might be going on in other states.

 What’s next in better understanding Coloradans’ views on our voting process?

We had years of [mail-in voting] going without controversy. It wasn’t until we started to get into 2020 where we really saw the election integrity attacks in earnest. That kind of rhetoric certainly seems to have an impact. 

[Mail-in voting] wasn’t always politicized in Colorado, and it’s not an innovation. It’s been going for some time. 

Something that a lot of us who work in survey research and public opinion polling are trying to suss out is the attitudes on this stuff that divides on party lines very cleanly. The question is about … the extent to which this is cheap talk, right? How much concern do people truly have about these things? Just like when you ask people about how likely they are to support undemocratic actions in the wake of an election or given concerns about legitimacy? Are they expressing partisan frustration?

We do need to ask ourselves questions about what’s driving those responses. Do this many Coloradans, based on partisan breakouts, really have this much skepticism about the electoral integrity of voting in Colorado,  or is it more of a partisan thing? We have more work to do on that.


Have more questions about voting in Colorado? Email us at info@colabnews.co and put “Elections” in the subject line. You can also find more information directly from the state at GoVoteColorado.gov.

This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 170 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public. Learn more here.

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