Sunday, November 30, 2014
Significance of rural votes in Colorado's 2014 gubernatorial general election.
Prior to the 2014 mid-term elections, earlier this month, reporter Jack Healy wrote an article in the New York Times projecting a tight governor’s race in the state of Colorado. The gubernatorial race pitted incumbent Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former Mayor of Denver, against Bob Beauprez, a Republican and former congressman. This was the second time these two have faced each other in the race for Governor’s Mansion—Beauprez losing in the last match by 17 points.
The article explains that Republicans focused their efforts on distinguishing Beauprez’s stance from Hickenlooper’s on gun control, the death penalty, and hydraulic fracturing. Republicans believed that rural votes would pay an important role in this election, so they focused on these issues hoping to play off the differences between urban and rural Coloradoans. Reiterating Republicans’ focus on the importance of rural voters in this election Beauprez expressed, “Rural Colorado, I think, probably determines the outcome of this election.”
Well, Tuesday, November 4, 2014 came and Tuesday, November 4, 2014 went. Election results were tallied. CNN and Fox News reported on those tallied results. And when it was all said and done, Beauprez lost the gubernatorial race.
Beauprez was unable to oust incumbent Hickenlooper. The race was tight, but Beauprez lost. He won 46.2% of the votes, but Gov. Hickenlooper won 49.1%. Post-election, I was interested to see whether Republicans and Beauprez were correct in claiming that rural Colorado would “…I think, probably” determine the outcome of this gubernatorial race. Did Beauprez lose because he lost the rural vote? Or was the importance of the rural vote overhyped by Republicans?
To decipher the impact of rural votes, I will compare the Beauprez-Hickenlooper gubernatorial results to the Gardner-Udall senatorial results. These two races had similar facts, a Democratic incumbent challenged by a Republican, who had served in Congress, for a statewide seat. Despite the similar settings between the two races, the results differed drastically. While the Hickenlooper was reelected, Udall’s incumbency was terminated in a 2.5 point loss to Gardner.
In Colorado, there are 47 nonmetropolitan counties, according to US Census data. Of those 47 rural counties, in both races, Democratic candidates won the same 14 counties and Republican candidates won the same 33 counties. The margins of victory and number of votes won in those 14 democratic-leaning, rural counties were larger for Hickenlooper than Udall. For example, in Ouray County, both Hickenlooper and Udall won, but Hickenlooper acquired 53.6% (1,430 votes), while Udall won only 42.9% of the vote (1,145 votes). In the same county, Gardner lost by a smaller margin and won more votes than Beauprez did. Gardner won 45.9% of the vote (1,228), while Beauprez won only 42.9% (1,145 votes). The outcomes in all rural counties won by Democrats look the same: Hickenlooper obtain more votes than Udall; Gardner obtained more votes than Beauprez in their loss. When analyzing the 33 counties that Republican candidates won, the same occurs: Gardner obtains more votes than Beauprez, but in the county victory; Hickenlooper obtains more votes than Udall, but in a losing effort. Looking solely at rural counties, it might seem that rural votes did largely determine the gubernatorial race. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case because of what happened in the metropolitan counties.
In the metropolitan Mesa County, Republican candidates won. But like in the rural counties won by Republicans, Gardner won more votes than Beauprez did in the county victory (Gardner: 37,607 votes; Beauprez: 33,655 votes) and Hickenlooper won more votes than Udall did in the county loss(Hickenlooper: 18,969 votes; Udall: 14,639 votes). Additionally, Beauprez failed to win a metropolitan county that Gardner won, Jefferson County. Beauprez, also, gained fewer votes than Gardner gained in metropolitan counties that both Republican candidates lost (e.g., Denver County).
Thus, it seems as though rural or nonmetropolitan votes did not play as significant as role in the gubernatorial race as Republicans speculated. It seems as though had Beauprez gained more votes in metropolitan counties that he both won and lost, he might have been able to edge out Hickenlooper in the same way that Gardner beat Udall. So, it appears that Beauprez merely lost the race, hands down. Had he performed as well as Gardner did in the rural counties, he likely still would have lost because of his under-performance in metropolitan counties.