01/12/2011 04:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Colorado Voters Want (and Don't Want)

Every January after an election, politicians of all stripes make speeches claiming to know exactly what is on the mind of voters. The Congress and Colorado legislature should look beyond their own election results to understand what voters want, and more importantly, what they don't want.

Take a look at the five conservative ballot measures on the 2010 Colorado ballot that all failed - some by spectacular margins. The "Ugly 3" tax cut & fiscal measures (Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101) were soundly defeated, by a broad coalition of businesses, working families, teachers, and politicians of all parties. Next up, Amendment 62, the birth control and abortion ban, failed to get 30% of the vote (after a similar defeat in 2008). Finally, Colorado became the only state in the country to defeat a conservative ballot measure that was a symbolic attempt to undermine the new health care law. The bottom line is that voters might have elected some new Republican politicians, but they certainly didn't embrace the right-wing ideology of the Tea Party or the GOP platform. They don't want dramatic changes that will hurt our economy and invade our personal lives, and they certainly don't want to play reckless partisan games.

Project New West has conducted extensive research in Colorado and other states throughout the west over the past three and a half years. This research has repeatedly shown that voters value efficient, high-quality community services. In a May 2010 poll among Colorado voters, over 70% felt that state government is "important to our quality of life" and "protects our communities," while only 10% said that they were not at all satisfied with the quality of service provided by Colorado state government. Voters strongly reject cuts to vital community services. Fully, 61% thought that spending for public schools in Colorado should be increased, while 27% wanted to keep spending the same.

Obviously, the economic fallout of the Great Recession is driving negative perceptions and anger towards institutions, both government and corporations. A recent nationwide Gallup survey suggests that 81% of voters think the US is on the wrong track. In Colorado, our December 2010 poll showed fully 50% of voters think that our state is on the wrong track (state "wrong track" numbers are often lower than national).

Republicans should not misread the last election as a mandate for a conservative, "drown the government in a bathtub," agenda. The economy and unemployment are the top concern of 54% of voters, in the December Gallup survey. While the political story of 2010 was clearly the rise of the Tea Party, you have to look down the list of concerns to find the voters who care about "dissatisfaction with government" (13%), "the Federal budget deficit" (10%), or taxes (4%). Additional pocketbook concerns like health care and education are also important and rank above taxes at 8% and 6%, respectively.

Finally, look at recent events in Colorado Springs, the epicenter of the religious right's conservative movement. Last July 4th, the Denver Post described the cut in local government spending as:

"A grand experiment in what might happen if a government really does hold the line on taxes -- as some citizens demand -- and starts curtailing services. No one knows what will result as government shrinks and citizens take up the slack."

The results were that public pools closed for the summer, every third street light was darkened and the city's Fourth of July parade was cancelled. With more dramatic cuts on tap in the future, we will have to see how voters respond to their everyday impact. We should point out that voters in El Paso County, home of the Springs, solidly rejected the "Ugly 3" ballot measures.

If Republicans implement a Tea Party vision throughout Colorado, parents will begin to feel real effects, with class sizes sky rocketing, supplies dwindling and parks and after school programs no longer a welcome place for their children. The rubber hits the road as the gavel hits the Speaker's desk in Denver this legislative session. Let's hope our leaders listen to what the voters really want and what they don't.