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Young, Independent Voters Change Politics In Colorado

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This season is when we hear from political partisans. Republicans and Democrats choose their nominees in primaries and caucuses like last night's vote in Nevada. Only in some states are independent voters allowed to play a role.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, when the fall election comes, political independence will once again be a massive force. And so let's hear from some of the nonaffiliated voters who account for almost 40 percent of the electorate.

INSKEEP: We're going to travel to three states, starting with Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: Colorado has gorgeous scenery and plenty of jobs, so it's no wonder that it has one of the fastest-growing millennial populations in the country, that is people born after 1981. And many of them are unaffiliated. To get a sense of their political power, in 2012, more Republicans voted than Democrats in the presidential election here. So...

JUDD CHOATE: Mitt Romney should've won in 2012, but as it was, the unaffiliated probably washed out that difference and then created the winning margin for Obama.

MARKUS: That was Judd Choate, who runs elections for the Colorado secretary of state's office. What that means is these millennials won't have much of a voice in Colorado's caucus next week. That's because you have to register with a party to take part. That doesn't really bother 24-year-old Sara Heisdorffer. She lives in the Denver suburbs. She thinks it's disingenuous to register for a party just to participate in the caucuses. Like many of her friends, neither the Democratic or Republican Party interest her. She hesitates before explaining why she thinks that is.

SARA HEISDORFFER: People my age will hate me for saying this, but it's kind of that special snowflake thing that millennials get crap for all the time, I think (laughter).

MARKUS: She says read any new story about her generation, and a theme emerges.

HEISDORFFER: We're entitled, and we're too focused on ourselves as individuals as opposed to the whole, and I think that's kind of being reflected by our political ideals and the way that we choose to identify.

MARKUS: Heisdorffer doesn't think that either party aligns with her views what she describes as socially liberal and fiscally moderate. But like many unaffiliated, she's not necessarily independent. She generally votes for Democrats. In fact, this self-styled independent mindset isn't necessarily new. Jocelyn Kiley is with the Pew Research Center.

JOCELYN KILEY: Younger people tend to be less likely to affiliate with parties than older people, and this is as pronounced as it's ever been.

MARKUS: Meaning millennials are shunning political parties at a rate greater than the young adults of previous generations, for NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.