In the summer of 2020, Lauren Boebert, a political upstart, took many by surprise when she defeated incumbent Scott Tipton in the Republican primary election for Colorado’s Third Congressional District. She then defeated veteran state lawmaker Diane Mitsch Bush — a Democrat — with promises to support former President Donald Trump’s conservative agenda and challenge Democratic positions.
What factors led to Boebert’s political victories? According to a new publication by Rebecca Theobald, Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at UCCS, the answer lies in the division between rural and urban voters in Colorado.
Theobald published “The 2020 Colorado Third Congressional District Election,” a chapter focusing on Colorado’s 2020 elections, in the Atlas of the 2020 Elections. The work focuses on the high-profile Third Congressional District race in 2020 which led to Boebert’s victory.
“We started thinking about this material in the summer of 2020, after the primary defeat of the incumbent in the Third District by challenger — now Congresswoman — Lauren Boebert,” Theobald said. “We expected that the division among voters would reflect the rural–urban division in Colorado and across the country, and this was largely confirmed in our investigation.”
Indeed, the divide was so pervasive, the researchers found, that party registration numbers successfully predicted every 2020 Congressional race in the state.
To share more, Theobald answered seven questions below.
1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?
Remember that an atlas is a collection of maps. This “Atlas of the 2020 Elections” is a specialized collection focused on explaining how people in the United States cast ballots for elected representatives during state primaries and the general election in 2020. Maps illustrate and inform the explanatory text, inviting people to look at different types of data from a variety of scales.
2. How did you get the idea for your project?
The 2020 Atlas is the fourth iteration of this particular collection, so credit must be given to geographers in previous decades who determined this was important information to communicate. My co-author and I were two of the 39 authors invited by the ten editors to participate. Not all states have an entry in each edition, but the high profile of the Colorado Third Congressional District race in 2020 sparked the invitation to us to write this review.
3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process?
While we started thinking about this material in the summer of 2020, after the primary defeat of the incumbent in the Third District by challenger (now Congresswoman) Lauren Boebert, we had to wait until after the November election to analyze the voting patterns, examine the maps and find the narrative.
We expected that the division among voters would reflect the rural – urban division in Colorado and across the country, and this was largely confirmed in our investigation. My co-author and former graduate student served as a GIS and Data Technician for El Paso County during the last election cycle, which gave him additional perspectives about the electoral process in 2020.
4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?
I am inspired to offer educators and practitioners geographic perspectives that might otherwise go unobserved. I especially enjoy introducing educators to tools such as geospatial technology that can provide powerful insights into patterns of human behavior from voting to pollution to dessert preference. The more familiar current teachers and pre-service teachers — such as students in the UCCS College of Education — are with geographic information science (GIS), the more their students will be prepared with this essential technology.
5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?
I inherited a standing desk from my late mother-in-law which is now in my office on campus. During the enforced time at home, I also created a standing desk there. Being on your feet is a great way to stay focused. When you are stuck about a concept or approach, try describing it in a different way. If you always type on a computer, then write by hand, or draw a diagram of how you are thinking about the concept. It also helps to describe your idea to someone else, but be sure to have a way to capture your discussion.
6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book?
“The race was framed on the extremes as being between ‘socialist’ Mitsch Bush and ‘radical’ Boebert, but the electors mirrored the voter registration patterns in the district as well as the continued division between rural and urban Colorado, reflected in changing demographics in mountain towns catering to tourists seeking recreation opportunities. Party registration numbers successfully predicted every 2020 Congressional race in the state.”
7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered?
Examining the data from voting patterns in the 2020 election re-emphasized that how we draw electoral district lines has significant impact on the representation people have in their legislative bodies, from city council to University of Colorado Regents to the state senate.
Although the decennial census count, apportionment of congressional seats, and federal and state electoral boundary processes are mostly completed, my focus continues to be on offering educational resources about redistricting through the UCCS GeoCivics Project hosted by the university’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies. I try to find a point of interest with an individual or group, and then begin the conversation about redistricting there. For those of you in Colorado, I recommend paying attention to the upcoming redistricting process for county commissioners.
UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.