FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports on undeniably tough numbers for Colorado Democrats, in a poll released yesterday from Democratic-aligned (but considered highly accurate) pollster Public Policy Polling:
Republicans hold a five-point edge over Democrats on a generic ballot heading into state legislative races next year.
According to PPP, a typically Democrat-friendly polling outfit, voters across the state would prefer a generic Republican candidate for legislative seats over a generic Democrat by a 47-42 percent margin.
With independents, the third of Colorado’s electorate that typically decides statewide races and other toss-up elections, the Republicans’ generic ballot edge is even larger, 41-30 percent…
“In just one year, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democrats in the statehouse lost the trust of their constituents by forcing through a radical agenda that is hurting working families, job creators and senior citizens,” Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call told FOX31 Denver.
Without any doubt, these are sobering results for Democrats, whose biggest consolation is that nearly a year–and a whole legislative session–lies between these numbers and the next general election. We've been talking about the roots of this steep plunge in Democratic popularity at the state level all spring and summer. Republicans, with much help from a conflict-loving press, have done a good job spinning this years legislative session as an "overreach" by Democrats. We've always rejected this label for the 2013 session, because when you look at the actual legislation passed and signed into law, it really wasn't all that controversial. Many bills, like civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, enjoyed overwhelming support, and had been pent up for years by the GOP-controlled Colorado House. In 2012, the House GOP leadership's actions to kill civil unions despite the bill having majority support resulted in major scandal–generally believed to have improved performance for Colorado Democrats in the 2012 elections.
So, what is going on then? Why this apparent turnaround in so little time?
We find at least part of the answer in recent polling that shows the voting public in Colorado despises the concept of "gun control," the issue that dominated the headlines for most of this year's legislative session, but supports the gun safety legislation actually passed by Democrats. In this space, we have documented repeated instances of not only full-scale lying by Republicans about these bills, but those lies being uncritically reported in multiple local news outlets including the state's newspaper of record. In this case, we don't think the public is stupid: the public has been deliberately misinformed, and their seeming disconnect between perception and reality over what was actually passed this year is a direct result. The rest of the pile-on to create this sense of "overreach" consists mostly of opportunistic lobbyist-driven axe-grinding over renewable energy and consumer protection bills–also relatively uncontroversial and broadly supported. Individually, the "backlash" against legislation passed this year looks like garden-variety sour grapes. In aggregate, and will the help of accommodating local media, Republicans and their allies are enjoying success at hyping their usual grousing into something more.
Will it succeed? Will these forecasts for the "generic ballot" in 2014 translate into electoral results? As much as Ryan Call hopes so, that's far from certain. If the work of Democrats in this year's legislative session had been done next year, with only a few months to correct the record with voters before the election, this poll might well portend disaster. As it is, the nutty predictions made by Republicans on the gun bills have already been largely debunked. Republicans can't run a "generic" candidate, they have to run the people they have–warts and all. The time between now and the election, if used properly by Democrats, is enough to dispel the myths about the 2013 session. Also factoring into present weakness for Democrats is the disastrous initial launch of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces. Whatever happens between now and next November to change that story, as is slowly but surely happening, will directly affect Democratic candidates at all levels.
A lot of work (and a bit of luck) for Democrats before next November can turn this around. But they'll need both.