New Poll Reveals How Colorado’s Swing Voters View Public Lands and Energy Development

Feb 25, 2016

“Winning the West” campaign launched to highlight the importance of parks, public lands, and access to outdoors for voters in Mountain West states


FEBRUARY 25, 2016

DENVER ‚Äì With the Colorado caucus just days away, the Center for Western Priorities launched its 2016 Winning the West campaign with a new poll revealing that when Colorado voters head to the ballot box, a candidate’s views on public lands and the outdoors can help swing undecided voters.

According to the poll—which oversampled voters in three Colorado swing counties, Arapahoe, Jefferson, and Larimer, and oversampled Latino voters statewide—a passion for an outdoor lifestyle and access to the state’s outdoor spaces is the number one reason an overwhelming majority of voters give for why they love Colorado. Highlighting outdoor issues is an important way for candidates to connect with voters in the Centennial state.

“Because Coloradans care so deeply about the local landscape and how it’s used, candidates have a real opportunity to move voters and gain support based on the positions they take and the commitment they show to the great outdoors,” said Brian Gottlieb, Managing Director at Purple Strategies, which conducted the poll.

Alongside the poll, the Center for Western Priorities conducted focus groups with swing voters in Jefferson County who spoke passionately about the importance of access to protected lands. According to one independent swing voter, “I just think there are so many different things that you can do [in Colorado]. You can go to the lake. You can go camping. You can go hiking, skiing, ice skating‚Ķ It’s a beautiful state. We need to protect it. It’s outdoor people that live here.”

The Winning the West campaign will also include a six-figure ad buy and an informational website. The updated Winning the West website is intended to educate candidates and campaigns about how important it is to show strong support for public lands and access to outdoor spaces, particularly among swing voters in Colorado and other purple states in the Rocky Mountain West.

Looking towards the general election, Colorado voters, by a 54 to 33 percent margin, favor a hypothetical Democratic candidate with a balanced approach to public lands – one who supports protecting land, water, and wildlife, while providing public access and managing energy development in a responsible way – over a Republican candidate who supports state control of national public lands, selling off public lands to balance the budget, and expanding oil and gas development.

Conversely, by a 45 to 44 percent margin, Colorado voters favor a hypothetical Republican candidate with a balanced approach to public lands over a Democratic candidate who believes oil, gas, and coal should stay in the ground and be replaced by renewable energy sources.

wtw poll

“This poll confirms what many Coloradans already understand intuitively,” said Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala. “Colorado’s natural beauty and recreation opportunities defines our way of life and supports our economy. Candidates seeking voter support here are wise to find a common sense view that balances conservation, economic use, and public enjoyment of our lands, while steering clear of extreme proposals to dispose of American public lands.”

According to the poll, Colorado voters want to see a balanced approach on public lands that prioritizes protections and outdoor recreation, while also allowing for responsible energy development.

  • 67 percent of voters were more likely to support candidates who would propose increasing protection of public lands.

  • 65 percent of voters were more likely to support candidates who would propose increasing access to lands for recreational activities.

  • 67 percent of voters favor candidates who encourage renewable energy development.

  • 52 percent of voters were more likely to support candidates who would continue oil and gas drilling on public lands, but with additional environmental protections in place.

  • 48 percent of voters were more likely to support candidates who favored reducing the amount of coal extraction on public lands over time.

  • 20 percent of voters were more likely to support a candidate who would open up public lands to more private development.

The poll revealed more extreme candidate positions that could be “third-rail” issues with voters. On one side of the spectrum, voters were less likely to support a candidate who wanted to ban energy development of any kind on public lands. At the same time, voters were significantly less likely to support candidates who favored selling public lands to reduce the budget deficit or “opening up public lands to private development.”

In addition, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea that there is too much public land in Colorado and were closely divided on the hot-button issue of fracking.

The Winning the West poll was conducted by Purple Strategies. It included 1,083 telephone interviews of likely 2016 voters in Colorado, with oversamples of Latino voters and voters in Arapahoe, Jefferson, and Larimer counties, between January 20th and 26th, 2016. Respondents were randomly selected from a voter file and language of choice interviewing was available to Spanish-speaking voters. The margin of error for Colorado voters is +/-3.6% and higher for subgroups.

The full Winning the West Colorado poll is available as a presentation, along with the topline results of the Purple Strategies poll.