Lessons learned from the elections? don’t count on it

Even as results poured across Colorado and the country on Tuesday night, pundits stumbled upon themselves to interpret the lessons to be learned from the election.

On the Democratic side, progressives have called for even more liberal policies. Their moderate colleagues advocated a more sober approach. Republicans claimed their message broke through and lit the path to victory in 2022 and 2024.

In truth, there is little to learn from last week’s election. At least not much to help the candidates who hope to be elected next year.

Mario nicolas

The electorate who has just voted and the one who will vote in 2022 are radically different. Elections in odd years traditionally receive a much lower percentage of voter turnout than elections in even years. This year was no different.

Just about 1.5 million Colorados voted in 2021. This represents around 38.44% of active voters. In 2020, these numbers stood at nearly 3.3 million or 86.67% (presidential race). In 2018, they eclipsed 2.5 million or 74.91% (race for governor).

The dramatic difference is not just in the raw numbers, but in partisan performance. Republicans surpassed their state registration numbers by a significant amount in 2021. They understand 25.7% of active voters but represented 32.6% of the vote on Tuesday night.

Democrats also outperformed registration, but with a lower margin – 28.9% of active voters versus 31.0% of ballots cast in 2021.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Despite a jump between 2019 and 2021 of more than 150,000 votes in total and eclipsing Republicans for the first time in an odd-year election, unaffiliated voters did not come close to their number of registrations or participation of even years.

On the contrary, the election provided only a small piece of evidence to determine the most consistent and enthusiastic voters in the electorate. Anyone who votes in an election in an odd year is very likely to vote again in an even year.

But determining exactly what motivated this particular set of voters is both difficult and unnecessary. Some were motivated by the mask tenure and vaccine angst, others by their feelings towards President Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress, and still others by localized school board runs and critical theory of the race.

Not only is it incredibly difficult to analyze multi-causal participation patterns, it tells you almost nothing about future elections with different electorates.

This is exactly why the director of the Polling Institute at Monmouth University, a national leader in the field, openly questioned whether election polls could always be accurate or should be undertaken at all.

Determining an accurate sample from election to election for polling is almost impossible under the current circumstances. This is especially true in a world where news cycles and the corresponding behavior of the electorate change into 280-character tweets and blinking chyrons.

What’s important to get people to the polls today will be different next week, next month, and certainly next year.

Trying to formulate a campaign plan based on this election is a wild ride. For example, any Colorado Republican trying to strike back Glenn Youngkin’s strategy will struggle to win a primary while avoiding former President Donald Trump.

Moreover, such a strategy ignores the almost certain fact that Youngkin would have lost had the election been held in an even year.

I am sure to hear protests from supporters on either side. People legitimately caught up in an electoral ebb or flow, agents hoping to use the latest results to boost another payday or even a member of the media who understands horse racing are selling more ad space.

It doesn’t change the underlying truth. What happened last week will have very little impact on what happens next November. Or in 2024. This is the only real lesson to be learned from this election.


Mario Nicolais is a lawyer and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the justice system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


The Colorado Sun is a non-partisan news organization, and the views of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the views of the newsroom. Read our Ethics Policy to learn more about The Sun’s Opinion Policy and submit columns, suggest writers or give your opinion at opinion@coloradosun.com.


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