home guest columnist archives about us contact us

Issue Brief
Ciruli Associates

Referenda C and D Face Uphill Battle
In August Vote, Referendum C Would Have Lost

Analysis by Floyd Ciruli October 6, 2005

Much of the state’s political and business establish is united in asking voters to increase state spending by more than $3 billion over the next five years by adjusting the tax limitation initiative known as the TABOR Amendment. But various polls taken from early 2005 through July show the November 2005 ballot proposal, Referendum C, failing.

The statewide survey published in The Denver Post July 10, shows only 43 percent of voters support the initiative. Two surveys conducted by Ciruli Associates show support below 40 percent in Republican-dominated areas of El Paso County and the Lower Arkansas Valley, including Pueblo County (38% support in April 2005) and Douglas County (39% support in July 2005).

Summary of Polls on Referenda C and D
  • 38% favor Referendum C; 47% oppose – Pueblo Chieftain/Ciruli Associates, N750, April 2005: El Paso, Pueblo and Arkansas Valley counties from Fremont east
  • 39% favor Referendum C; 52% oppose – Ciruli Associates, N350, July 2005: Douglas County (Referendum D received 37% support)
  • 43% favor Referendum C; 42% oppose – Denver Post/Mason Dixon, N625, July 2005: statewide (Referendum D received 39% support)

Ciruli Associates 2005

A second referendum (D) authorizing $2 billion in bonds for additional spending in transportation and other projects also has weak support (39%) statewide in July 2005. The bonding referendum will not be authorized unless Referendum C is approved.

Opinion Dynamics
Numerous surveys conducted in recent years have shown consistent support for TABOR tax limits in the mid-50 percent range (e.g., 54% Colorado Tax Commission, 2001, Ciruli Associates). But supporters of Referendum C believe the election can be won with near-universal endorsements from media, business and civic associations, and local government. They hope to have superior media resources, and they have planned a record-breaking get-out-the-vote effort among constituencies that have endorsed, many of which benefit from the increased government spending.

However, it is clear Colorado’s electorate remains closely divided on expanding state government spending. A significant plurality of voters are resisting cues from media and rhetoric from political and civic elites, which have been promoting the need to change TABOR rules at a furious volume since early spring. In addition, despite some campaign mistakes by opponents, including misstatements of facts and controversial fundraising, they have raised significant funds and launched early and effective radio and TV advertising.

Weak Partisan Support
An examination of partisan support for Referendum C shows, not surprisingly, partisanship is a significant predictor of attitudes toward increased government spending. Barely a third of Republicans favored it as of July, against strong support from Gov. Bill Owens and much of the state Republican business leadership. Although the governor reluctantly agreed to what he considered a more than generous compromise, he has become the strongest and most effective advocate of the referendum today. In fact, Republican support would likely be less, if not for Owens.

Support from Democratic voters is below 50 percent in recent polls, which is surprising given that the effort to increase state spending and modify TABOR limits is primarily a Democratic-sponsored effort. With no notable exception, the Democratic Party’s elected and local leadership favor it.

Partisan Support for Referendum C






Southern Colorado

Ciruli Associates

April 2005



Douglas County

Ciruli Associates

July 2005



Ciruli Associates 2005

Ideology is also a major influence on voter positions on Referendum C. For example, Southern Colorado Democrats, who offer only 44 percent support, are more conservative blue-collar, rural Democrats who often reject statewide tax increases and social policies supported by their more liberal metro area fellow partisans.

Age is an important factor in turnout and support for Referendum C. Seniors as a group are less supportive of spending increases than baby boomers or younger voters. In the July Douglas County poll, only 29 percent of persons over 65 years old supported Referendum C, whereas 40 percent of voters 35- to 44-years-old supported it.

Low Turnout
A special challenge for proponents is the low turnout typical in odd-number year elections. About a million voters are expected. This is less than half the 2004 presidential turnout. The odd-number year electorate typically is older, more Republican and more conservative.

As the table below shows, some statewide initiatives involving increased spending have passed in previous off-year elections, including transportation bonds in 1999 and the Great Outdoors Colorado bond in 2001. However, they did not involve tax increases and had little opposition. The last odd-number election, 2003, was a bad year for increased government spending. An effort to freeze the Gallagher property tax limits lost, as did Referendum A, which authorized increased spending for ill-defined water projects. The water bond campaign was especially hard fought.

Turnout in Off-Year Elections






Transportation revenue bond – P
Metro RTD bond – P
Metro football stadium – P




Great Outdoors Colorado bond – P
Monorail – L




Referendum A water bond – L
Gallagher freeze – L
Race track gaming – L




Referenda C and D



Ciruli Associates 2005

Previous TABOR Overrides
TABOR overrides tend to pass at the local level (96% of local TABOR overrides have passed since its inception in 1992), but have a more difficult time statewide. Two major previous statewide TABOR overrides, which were held in regular even-number elections, had different results. Gov. Roy Romer’s 1998 effort to direct TABOR refunds to transportation funding failed, receiving only 38 percent. Gov. Owens campaigned against it in the same year he won his governor’s race. But a complicated TABOR override in 2000 for K-12 education passed closely with 53 percent. Amendment 23 passed at least partially because Gov. Owens, who opposed it, was distracted fighting a statewide land use initiative and the opponents lacked money for advertising.

The difference between the near-unanimous willingness of voters to allow TABOR overrides at the local government level and the greater reluctance at the state level is related to awareness, impact and trust. Voters are simply less aware of the political personality of state government and are less effected by it on a daily basis than local government. Most important, polls show there is a hierarchy of trust of government, and voters trust state government less than local government.

TABOR Override Election Results
1998 and 2000




Amendment 23
















El Paso





















Ciruli Associates 2005

As the table above shows, in 1998 when the override lost, it received 39 percent in Douglas County and 31 percent in El Paso, which are close to the current county figures in Ciruli Associates Referenda C and D polls. When Amendment 23 won, it received 54 percent in El Paso and Douglas counties. Referenda C and D will likely require a large margin in suburban Denver to make up for weaker support outside the metro area.

Early Election Strategy
The opposition launched a summer radio attack labeling Referendum C a $3 billion tax increase for a state with an increasing budget. Proponents’ early campaigning focused more on grassroots, organizing endorsements and attacks on the opponents. The following are the main set pieces on the campaign stage.

Strategy -

Proponents are gathering hundreds of resolutions of support from local government and civic organizations.  They are seeking press coverage of support, often in areas the campaign is doing poorly, such as Colorado Springs.  The average voter is being cued that policy experts and political elites are nearly united in decrying TABOR limits and supporting Referendum C.  Also, the goal is to activate the constituents of local organizations to vote “yes.”  Opponents have received few reported endorsements.


Split -

A particular challenge for proponents is the unstable nature of their coalition. While increasing Democrat support, they must maintain their image of a bi-partisan coalition.  Proponents must win at least 40 percent of likely Republican voters, overwhelming support from Democrats and a majority of unaffiliated voters.

The early effort of proponents has been to increase their share of Republicans.  This requires dividing the Republican Party between its anti-tax wing and its economic development wing, by use of Republican Gov. Owens and the business community.  Consolidating Democratic support must be done carefully to prevent opponents from labeling the campaign as Democrat-controlled.

Turnout and Required Vote for Proponents

of Electorate


To Win
Need %

To Win
Need #


















The voter-turnout projection above (based on polling from previous odd-year elections) shows opponents begin in the stronger position because Republicans tend to dominate in a low-turnout election.  Assuming there will be one million voters, an examination of the common turnout rates for partisans (and unaffiliated voters), shows that proponents must dramatically increase their percentage of votes from early polling results, especially among Democrats.


Media -

The mainstream media is heavily invested in the passage of Referendum C.  The editorial pages of The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have joined in an unusual alliance, given their rivalry and differing liberal and conservative slants, to vigorously promote Referendum C and relentlessly attack the opponent’s campaign and arguments.


The salience of the coverage since the 2005 legislative session has been greatly increased and the content has become exceedingly critical of fiscal status quo and supportive of the change.


Marginalize Opponents -

Opponents have provided considerable ammunition to Referenda C and D supporters to attack their credibility and integrity.  By late September, Jon Caldara (lead opponent and head of the Independence Institute) and John Andrews (former state senator) were greatly damaged from media attacks on statements they made that have been alleged to be false or extreme.  Also, a refusal to file financial disclosures and large contributions from gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman’s supporters has distracted from the opponents’ message.  However, opponents have managed to raise significant money for broadcast advertising and attracted a few Republican leaders willing to oppose the referendum.


Balance -

When the huge FasTracks sales tax increase passed handily last November and Democrats took control of both legislative houses for the first time in four decades, the state’s pro-spending forces were emboldened to challenge the TABOR limitation head on.  But, the closeness of the ballot proposal in early polls reflects both balance between pro- and anti-government spending forces in the state and the persuasiveness of the arguments on each side. 

Anti-state-tax forces have dominated Colorado’s recent history, but the state’s civic leadership, spurred by The Denver Post editorial page, likes to use tax dollars for various civic projects and government activities, especially education and transportation.  Higher education has been heavily cited as needing more funding because it has taken the brunt of recent budget cuts.

Because the tax limitation movement is attempting to expand to several new states, Colorado’s election is being monitored nationally as an indication of its current strength. Also, Referendum C is seen as an affirmation of the shift of the state’s balance of power from a conservative tax policy to more liberal government spending following the surprising Democratic success in the 2004 election.

Polls analyzed by Floyd Ciruli, president of Ciruli Associates. Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research, communication and public policy firm proving consulting for Colorado and national organizations since 1976.

Polls analyzed by Floyd Ciruli, president of Ciruli Associates.

Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research, communication and public policy firm proving consulting for Colorado and national organizations since 1976.

Ciruli Associates • 1490 Lafayette St., Suite 208• Denver, CO 80218 • PH (303) 399-3173 • FAX (303) 399-3147.

[top] [archives] [home] [send this page to a friend]