Recap: The 2015 Utah Legislature

Last Thursday, the Utah Legislature concluded its seven-week annual lawmaking session. The state’s major newspapers have already published several excellent recaps of the major policy changes coming out of the session. So now I’ll give my annual recap of the session’s trends and operations. I posted all the following today:

The 2015 Legislature passed 528 bills in 45 days. People are calling 528 bills a record for a single session. But the more important record might be this one: Of the 528 bills passed, 277 of them didn’t pass their final vote until the final week of the Legislative session.

The closest votes in the 2015 Utah Legislature. This year’s closest votes dealt with bitcoin, natural gas vehicles, anonymous campaign contributions, truth in advertising, transportation funding, car emissions, medical marijuana, and party nomination procedures.

The naysayers: Which Utah legislators vote “no” the most? Most votes in the 2015 Legislature passed with 90+% support, yet some legislators seem to pride themselves on casting lots of “nay” votes. And it’s not minority party legislators who vote “nay” the most–it’s Republicans.

Who sponsored the most bills in 2015? One Senator has sponsored 158 bills over the past 6 years. He was at it again this year: Sen. Curt Bramble introduced 32 bills in 2015, passing 28.

Which legislators missed the most votes in 2015? The new Speaker, Greg Hughes, seems to have set a record for missing votes. With the exception of one legislator in 2008 who was dying of cancer, Hughes missed more floor votes this session (37%) than any other legislator in the past 9 years.

And, just for fun, here are some links to a few things I posted over the past few months that are relevant to the session. Regular readers will have seen these already:

What Utah voters want from their Legislature. Poll results from October 2014 on a variety of policy issues.

The 2015 Legislature will be Utah’s 2nd most Republican since the Depression. An analysis from November 2014. The Legislature is 84% Republican now.

Pretty much nobody likes the Zion Curtain. Poll results from November show a desire to remove alcohol preparation barriers.

Utahns like Herbert and non-discrimination; they don’t like Senators and clocks. Poll results from early in the session showed support for a non-discrimination law and ambivalence about ending daylight saving time.

You can find lots more statistics and information about the 2015 General Session at my other site.

About Adam Brown: Adam Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.

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Which legislators missed the most votes in 2015?

When it comes to healthy legislators, Greg Hughes set a new record this year for missing votes

Utah Legislators considered 831 bills during the seven-week 2015 General Session, passing 528 of them. Debating so many bills in so little time inevitably means that legislators leave the floor to court allies, negotiate language, meet with lobbyists, and generally keep things moving.

The time crunch is especially pronounced in the Senate, where responsibilities are divided among only 29 Senators as opposed to 75 Representatives. Perhaps that’s why absentee rates are consistently higher in the Senate than the House. During the 2015 General Session, the typical Senate floor vote had an absentee rate of 12%. The average rate in the House was 6%. (For absentee rates in previous years, click here.)

Of course, some legislators miss far more votes than others. I’ll start with the (almost) perfect attendance awards. The 10 legislators who missed the fewest votes:

DiCaro, Sophia M. R House 0%
Hollins, Sandra D House 1%
Peterson, Val L. R House 1%
Christofferson, Kay J. R House 1%
Westwood, John R. R House 1%
Handy, Stephen G. R House 1%
Thurston, Norman K. R House 1%
Romero, Angela D House 1%
Chew, Scott H. R House 1%
Miller, Justin J. D House 1%

Those are some impressive records. Rep. Sophia DiCaro missed only one vote out of 699 held in the Utah House.

Aaaaaand now we come to the other end of the table. Here are the 10 most absent legislators:

McIff, Kay L. R House 17%
Dabakis, Jim D Senate 18%
Sanpei, Dean R House 20%
Hillyard, Lyle W. R Senate 21%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 22%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 22%
Dee, Brad L. R House 24%
Madsen, Mark B. R Senate 29%
Adams, J. Stuart R Senate 35%
Hughes, Gregory H. R House 37%

I think we’ve got a record here, folks. Two of them, actually.

My data span 9 years. And in that span, the two highest absentee rates went to legislators with serious health issues. Rep. Bowman missed 48% of votes in 2008 while dying of cancer. And Sen. Buttars missed 36% in 2011; he retired at the end of the session due to his health issues.

Though he is apparently healthy, the new Speaker of the Utah House, Greg Hughes, was conspicuously absent from the dais throughout the General Session. He missed 37% of floor votes. When we look over the past 9 years, that puts him behind only Rep. Bowman, who was dying; even Sen. Buttars missed fewer votes than Greg Hughes, despite his severe health issues.

To be fair, it’s common for presiding officers (House Speakers and Senate Presidents) to miss floor votes. They leave the floor to negotiate budget compromises and deal with other matters. But still, Hughes is off the charts. As Senate President, Wayne Niederhauser missed 17% of his votes this year. And the previous Speaker, Becky Lockhart, missed 22% of floor votes in 2014 and 24% in 2013. Those are more typical rates for presiding officers.

So when it comes to healthy legislators, Greg Hughes set a new record this year for missing votes (at least looking over the last 9 years). And if Speaker Hughes hadn’t set the record, Sen. Stuart Adams would have; after Bowman-2008, Hughes-2015, and Buttars-2011, Sen. Adams’s 35% absentee rate is the fourth highest we’ve seen in the past 9 years.

Visit http://adambrown.info/p/research/utah_legislature/absent for absenteeism rates for all legislators over the past 9 years.

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Who sponsored the most bills in 2015?

Sen. Bramble has been the most active bill sponsor for 5 of the past 6 legislative sessions, introducing a total of 158 bills and resolutions over the past 6 years.

The Utah Legislature considered 831 bills during the 2015 General Session, passing 528 of them. That’s a lot of bills to pass in only 7 weeks, especially when you consider that there are only 104 legislators: 75 in the House, 29 in the Senate.

If the 831 introduced bills were spread around evenly, then each of the 104 legislators would have developed 8 bills. Of course, they weren’t spread around evenly. Four legislators introduced only one bill (Greg Hughes, Wayne Niederhauser, Brad King, and Sandra Hollins), and one introduced none (Susan Duckworth). Who, then, drove up the average?

This year’s most active bill sponsor was Sen. Curt Bramble, who introduced 32 bills, passing 28 of them. Those familiar with the Legislature won’t be surprised to see Sen. Bramble’s name at the top of the list. In fact, Sen. Bramble has been the most active bill sponsor for 5 of the past 6 legislative sessions, introducing a total of 158 bills and resolutions over the past 6 years.

Nipping at Sen. Bramble’s heels are Sen. Todd Weiler and Rep. Kraig Powell. Of course, not all active bill sponsors succeed at enacting their ideas into law. Though Sen. Bramble passed 28 of his 32 bills and Sen. Weiler passed 20 of his 29, Rep. Powell passed only 9 of his 23.

The table below lists legislators who sponsored 15 or more bills during the 2015 General Session, sorted by the “introduced” column:

Legislator Party Introduced Passed
Bramble, Curtis S. R 32 28
Weiler, Todd R 29 20
Powell, Kraig R 23 9
Harper, Wayne A. R 22 14
Osmond, Aaron R 22 11
Hillyard, Lyle W. R 19 18
Stephenson, Howard A. R 18 10
Eliason, Steve R 17 11
Urquhart, Stephen H. R 15 9
Jenkins, Scott K. R 15 9

Taking a different tack, the next table lists legislators who passed 10 or more bills, sorted by the “passed” column:

Legislator Party Introduced Passed
Bramble, Curtis S. R 32 28
Weiler, Todd R 29 20
Hillyard, Lyle W. R 19 18
Harper, Wayne A. R 22 14
Osmond, Aaron R 22 11
Dayton, Margaret R 14 11
Eliason, Steve R 17 11
Adams, J. Stuart R 12 11
Dunnigan, James A. R 13 11
Van Tassell, Kevin T. R 13 10
Stephenson, Howard A. R 18 10

Visit http://adambrown.info/p/research/utah_legislature/sponsorship for bill sponsorship data for all legislators (and for years back to 2007).

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The naysayers: Which Utah legislators vote “no” the most?

I’ve heard Rep. Dan McCay called Dan McNay. It seems his claim to that nickname is secure.

The Utah Legislature governs by consensus. In the Legislature’s 2015 General Session, the typical floor vote saw 92% (House) or 95% (Senate) of legislators voting the same way. Republicans control 84% of the seats.

These high percentages mean that Republicans and Democrats alike generally vote the same way. Party line votes, where a majority of Democrats votes against a majority of Republicans, are rare. In 2015, only 13% (House) and 7% (Senate) of votes divided legislators along party lines.

As a result, it is very, very rare for floor votes to fail. In 2015, only 4% (House) and 1% (Senate) of votes held on the floor resulted in a negative outcome. (All these percentages have been pretty stable for years. You can see charts with data for the past several years here.)

So why are legislators loathe to vote no? There are several reasons. The worst bills are either rejected or watered down in committee. If a divisive bill does manage to get out of committee, chamber leadership has ways of keeping it from coming to the floor for a vote. And even if it does get to the floor, it is likely to be watered down on the floor before the final vote. Taken together, this means that the most difficult bills seldom get to a floor vote unless they’ve been heavily reworked–making negative floor votes rare.

Though the general pattern is consensus, there are still several legislators who seem to relish voting “nay.” I’ll start with the most agreeable legislators–those who voted “nay” less than 5% of the time. It’s not surprising that everybody in this list belongs to the majority party. It’s also not surprising that many majority party leaders show up in this list–after all, leaders who oppose bills have ways of preventing them from coming to the floor at all.

Adams, J. Stuart R Senate 1%
Millner, Ann R Senate 1%
Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 2%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 2%
Niederhauser, Wayne L. R Senate 2%
Weiler, Todd R Senate 2%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 2%
Thatcher, Daniel W. R Senate 2%
Osmond, Aaron R Senate 2%
Knudson, Peter C. R Senate 3%
Hughes, Gregory H. R House 3%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 3%
Christensen, LaVar R House 4%
Van Tassell, Kevin T. R Senate 4%
McIff, Kay L. R House 4%
Last, Bradley G. R House 4%

And now for those who vote “nay” most often. It is not surprising that several minority party lawmakers show up in this list. What may be surprising to some, though, is that the most active “nay” voters belong to the majority party. There’s a running joke in the Capitol that the Legislature has three parties: The Democratic party, the Republican party, and the other Republican party. Lists like the one below reveal just how much truth lies behind this gag.

King, Brad D House 11%
Duckworth, Susan D House 11%
Miller, Justin J. D House 11%
Moss, Carol Spackman D House 12%
Peterson, Val L. R House 12%
Poulson, Marie H. D House 12%
King, Brian S. D House 13%
Arent, Patrice M. D House 13%
Hollins, Sandra D House 13%
Dayton, Margaret R Senate 13%
Romero, Angela D House 14%
Thurston, Norman K. R House 14%
Knotwell, John R House 14%
Chavez-Houck, Rebecca D House 14%
Briscoe, Joel K. D House 15%
Greene, Brian M. R House 15%
Roberts, Marc K. R House 16%
McCay, Daniel R House 17%

Incidentally, Rep. Dan McCay just completed his fourth General Session in the Utah House of Representatives. In the past three sessions, he has cast more “nay” votes than any other legislator (of either chamber or party).

When I look back at all the data I have (the past 9 sessions) and average each legislator’s voting across all the sessions she or he has served in, I find that Dan McCay has cast more “nay” votes over his four sessions than any other legislator over the past 9 sessions. I’ve heard Rep. Dan McCay called Dan McNay. It seems his claim to that nickname is secure.

Visit http://adambrown.info/p/research/utah_legislature/nay if you want “nay” voting rates for all legislators or for past years.

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The closest votes in the 2015 Utah Legislature

The Legislature governs by consensus. Most bills pass overwhelmingly, with Democrats and Republicans voting together. But close votes do happen. Because 84% of Utah’s legislators are Republicans, the closest votes arise when Republicans are divided among themselves.

Among other matters, this year’s closest votes dealt with bitcoin (HCR 6), natural gas vehicles (HB 406), anonymous campaign contributions (HB 91), truth in advertising for cosmetic procedures (SB 85), transportation funding (HB 420), car emissions (HB 110), medical marijuana (SB 259), and a constitutional amendment to roll back last year’s Count My Vote compromise (SJR 2).

Below I’ve listed this year’s 20 closest votes in each chamber. Click a bill number to read the bill’s text. Click the vote breakdown to see how individual legislators voted.

The 20 closest votes in the 2015 Utah House

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HCR006S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
SB0250 House/ failed 35-38-2 3
HB0406S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-36-0 3
HJR014 House/ failed 34-38-3 4
SJR001 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-34-3 4
HJR015S02 House/ failed 32-37-6 5
HB0313S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0244 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-33-4 5
HB0011 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0376S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-34-1 6
HB0069S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-33-3 6
SB0033S01 House/ failed 32-39-4 7
SB0033S01 House/ recalled by House 40-33-2 7
SB0150 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-32-4 7
SB0293 House/ failed 31-38-6 7
SB0134S03 House/ passed 3rd reading 41-33-1 8
SB0078 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-31-5 8
HB0447S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-31-4 9
HB0394S02 House/ failed 32-41-2 9
HB0137S01 House/ failed 32-41-2 9

The 20 closest votes in the 2015 Utah Senate

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HB0091S04 Senate/ failed 12-12-5 0
SB0085S02 Senate/ failed 11-12-6 1
HB0420S02 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-14-0 1
HB0110S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-14-0 1
SB0259S04 Senate/ failed 14-15-0 1
SJR002 Senate/ failed 14-15-0 1
SB0208 Senate/ failed 12-14-3 2
SB0072 Senate/ failed 12-14-3 2
HJR007S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-13-1 2
SB0127S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0053 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-12-2 3
HB0011 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0259S04 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-13-0 3
SB0281S02 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-13-0 3
SB0242 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-11-3 4
SB0087 Senate/ failed 12-16-1 4
HB0285S03 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-12-1 4
HB0197S01 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0207S06 Senate/ substituted from # 2 to # 3 15-10-4 5
HB0360S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-10-4 5

Visit my other site for additional statistics and raw data about the 2015 General Session.

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The 2015 Legislature passed 528 bills in 45 days

Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

By the time the Utah Legislature concluded its seven-week General Session last Thursday, legislators had passed 528 bills (including resolutions). I’ve heard people call that a record. It might be. My data go back only to 2007, and it’s clearly a record since then. As you can see in the chart below, this year’s 528 bills and resolutions just barely edge out the 524 enacted two years ago.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

Of course, legislators had plenty of additional ideas that didn’t get enacted. Though only 528 items passed, 831 were introduced for consideration. Only 3% of these were actually voted down on the floor. Another 33% never came to a final floor vote–either because they died in committee, or (more often) because they weren’t prioritized for a floor vote before the session ended.

The Utah Constitution limits the Legislature to 45 calendar days of activity. Because legislators do not convene on weekends, they have 33 legislative days in practice. Passing 528 bills in 33 days implies a rate of 16 bills per day.

Legislators didn’t consider 16 bills per day, though. Instead, most bills piled up and were considered rapidly in the session’s final days. In fact, 277 of this year’s enacted bills (that’s 52% of 528) received their final approval during the session’s final week. That’s an incredible amount of legislation to consider in only four days, and it reflects the culmination of a trend toward procrastination. As the next chart shows, Utah’s lawmakers have considered more and more bills during the final week of each year’s General Session.

The 2015 Legislature: 277 bills were passed in the final week

So why do Utah legislators wait until the final week to approve so many bills? Legislators have themselves to blame for this backlog. Up until around 2008, legislators were in the habit of introducing their bills very early in the legislative session, so that bills had plenty of time to work their way through the legislative process. But from 2009-2011, legislators shifted toward introducing their bills later in the session.

You can see this change in the next chart. In 2008, 551 bills (74% of 744 total) were introduced during the first two weeks of the session. In 2015, only 467 bills (56% of 831 total) were introduced within the first two weeks. Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

When you combine this increased procrastination with the aggregate rise in bills–831 introductions!–you’ve got a recipe for a very busy seventh week.

Visit http://adambrown.info/p/research/utah_legislature/bills for additional statistics like those reported here.

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King v. Burwell: What Should Utah Do If the Plaintiffs Win?

Though the public is split on whether the solution should come from Congress or from the state, most Utah voters clearly prefer some sort of action to preserve access to health insurance subsidies.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, an important new case related to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This case involves whether or not citizens are eligible for tax credits when they purchase insurance on the federal health insurance exchange. Since the federal exchange began last year, people shopping there have been able to receive tax credits (or in other words, subsidies) to help them purchase insurance if their incomes fall below a certain threshold. The plaintiffs argue that one section of the law prohibits the government from giving citizens tax credits to purchase insurance if they bought their insurance on the exchange established by the federal government, instead of one established directly by the state. They contend that this is what Congress intended as an incentive for states to set up their own insurance exchanges.

The federal government disputes this claim and argues that the lawsuit is simply the work of a small group of very conservative lawyers and activists who are deeply opposed to the law and are now trying to use the courts to stop it instead of making changes through the legislative process. Not surprisingly, the government interprets the law very differently from the plaintiffs, holding that all citizens are eligible receive tax credits, whether they purchased their insurance on the state or federal exchange. Government lawyers and their supporters argue that neither Congress nor the states ever anticipated that subsidies would be prohibited on the federal exchange and that the plaintiffs’ interpretation is nonsensical because it would mean that the federal exchanges would not serve a core element of the law’s intent – making insurance “affordable” for those who purchase it.

Unlike the previous Obamacare cases that appeared before the Supreme Court, this one does not involve a question of the law’s constitutionality. Rather, it is, in some ways, a narrow technical dispute about how the Department of Health and Human Services has interpreted and implemented it. But if the plaintiffs are successful, the lawsuit could have a dramatic and devastating effect on insurance markets in states across the nation. The government and several health care analysts argue that prohibiting subsidies in states that chose to use the federal exchange will destabilize insurance markets and substantially increase the costs of health care for millions of Americans who have been benefitting from federal subsidies. Citizens in states that chose to establish their own exchanges would, however, continue to receive access to subsidies.

Why does any of this matter to Utah? Because like 33 other states, Utah elected not to set up its own exchange, relying instead on the federal alternative. Analysts from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimate that if the lawsuit is successful, about 127,000 Utahns would lose access to assistance to help pay for their insurance. This would represent a loss of about $630 million in federal aid and, by another estimate, would likely increase insurance costs by about 289% for Utahns currently receiving aid. What’s more, even Utahns who do not currently benefit from tax credits may see their insurance costs go up as those who were receiving subsidies drop out of the insurance pool.

If the King v. Burwell lawsuit is successful, Utahns and their representatives in the state legislature and in Congress will face a difficult choice. Will members of Congress take action to restore access to health insurance tax credits for those on the federal exchange? Will Utah establish a state exchange? Or will representatives do nothing in the hopes that Obamacare will wither and ultimately die?

Already, Orrin Hatch and several others have argued that Congress should use the opportunity to fundamentally change the system established by the Affordable Care Act. Hatch’s plan was outlined in broad terms in The Washington Post on Sunday and involves retaining insurance subsidies for a transitional period of time, then ushering in more dramatic changes to the system later. But it is unclear whether Congress and President Obama would agree on substantial changes or even whether Republican members of Congress could coalesce around a single proposal.

The choice to establish a state exchange is also fraught with difficulty. When the law was first passed, states could receive grants from the federal government to help establish their own exchange, but that assistance is no longer available, nor is it clear that the state could act quickly enough to prevent some Utahns from losing subsidies. And as the recent debates about Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan have made clear, it is not at all obvious that the state legislature would want to do anything that could be interpreted as supporting Obamacare, even if that means some Utahns have less access to health care coverage. Of course, doing nothing is a good way to underscore opposition to Obamacare, but it would leave substantial numbers of Utahns without needed support. None of the alternatives, then, would come without challenges and costs.

What do voters in Utah think about these options? Shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear King v. Burwell, we asked participants in our November 2014 Utah Voter Poll what they thought should happen if the plaintiffs win the lawsuit. We gave respondents to the survey some basic background on the case (full question wording available here), then presented them with four alternatives:

  1. “Utah should establish its own exchange so that qualifying citizens can receive tax credits for purchasing insurance”;
  2. “Utah should encourage Congress to fix the law so that qualifying citizens in states that use the federal exchange can receive tax credits, too”;
  3. “Utah should not do anything, even if that means the cost of health insurance will increase for Utahns who currently receive tax credits, because Utah should not support programs like the Affordable Care Act”;
  4. Don’t Know.

Notably, these four alternatives are about the narrow issue of tax credits, not about whether Congress should fundamentally re-think the Affordable Care Act. At the time of the survey, other alternatives like a temporary extension of subsidies had not yet been proposed. Nor was our purpose to ask Utahns how the Supreme Court should rule (a topic about which partisans have very different opinions). Our aim, instead, was to explore Utahns’ preferences in response to a win for the plaintiffs: would voters prefer a congressional fix, a state exchange, or complete resistance to anything associated with Obamacare?

When faced with those choices, most Utahns preferred some sort of action, though no single alternative received majority support. As can be seen in Figure 1, the largest proportion of survey respondents – about 40% — preferred that Congress act to ensure that consumers on the federal exchange receive tax credits. The next largest group – a little more than 28% — wanted Utah to establish its own exchange. Just over 20% expressed a preference for doing nothing, and another 10% didn’t know. Thus, nearly 70% wanted either federal or state representatives to take action of some sort, though some wanted Congress to take responsibility and others preferred a state-level solution.

Figure 1: Preferred Options, All Voters

Figure 1: Preferred Options, All Voters

Not surprisingly, the distribution of opinion differed by political party, though these differences are perhaps not as profound or as polarized as the debate about health care has been. The basic results can be seen in Figure 2. The biggest differences across the parties concern the “do nothing” option. Less than 1% of Democrats wanted to do nothing, compared to 18% of independents and 28% of Republicans. More than 90% of Democrats preferred state or federal action (with most Democrats wanting Congress to fix the problem). Among independents, more preferred a state-level solution to a congressional fix, but still, almost 75% expressed support for something other than doing nothing. While a substantial minority of Republicans wanted to do nothing, most expressed support for either federal (38%) or state (22%) action. In other words, in the face of a victory for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, just short of 60% of Republicans in conservative Utah prefer that either the state or the national government intervene to safeguard Utahns’ access to health insurance subsidies … and most of that group preferred a congressional solution.

Figure 2: Preferred Options, by Party Identification

Figure 2: Preferred Options, by Party Identification

In fact, the only group that prefers inaction to action on this issue includes those who say they are active supporters of the Tea Party (63%). But this is a minority group among Utah voters – in our survey, which parallels the electorate in 2012 and 2014, Tea Partiers represent only about 14% of all respondents. In other words, should the state’s elected officials decide to do nothing, they will be supporting the strong wishes of a vocal but still relatively small group of voters.

It is important to remember, of course, that we asked this question back in November, before public attention had focused much on the case. And it is quite possible that as Republicans put forward more concrete plans for what to do about health care, more Utahns will gravitate toward alternatives beyond the four we provided to our survey respondents. This was merely an initial attempt to explore the views of Utah voters on this issue. But the results also show that even in a deeply red state, the politics of this issue are not easy for lawmakers, especially Republicans who have opposed Obamacare. Neither a majority of voters nor a majority of Republicans favors limiting Utahns’ ability to receive federal tax credits.  Though the public is split on whether the solution should come from Congress or from the state, most Utah voters clearly prefer some sort of action to preserve access to health insurance subsidies.

Polling Details

The poll that included these questions, fielded by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, was administered online to a representative sample of Utahns who voted in at least one even-year general election from 2004-2012. The poll was in the field from November 14-23, 2014. Exact question wordings, along with details about sampling, response rates, and weighting, are available at the Utah Voter Poll website.

About Chris Karpowitz: Chris Karpowitz is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

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Utahns like Herbert and non-discrimination; they don’t like Senators and clocks

Utahns overwhelmingly support “a statewide law to protect Utahns against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” with 72% in favor

Newly released polling data shows that Utahns approval strongly of Gary Herbert’s performance as governor (74% approve, 26% disapprove) and tepidly of the Utah Legislature’s performance (56% approve, 44% disapprove).

Little support for US Senators

Both of Utah’s US Senators are underwater in their favorability ratings. Orrin Hatch, who once declared his intention not to seek reelection in 2018, draws 44% favorable against 53% unfavorable (3% undecided). Though he later hinted that he might reconsider his pledge to retire, these numbers suggest that Utahns aren’t clamoring for him to remain indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Mike Lee draws 45% favorable against 48% unfavorable (7% undecided). This represents a slight decline since October (50% favorable), though Mike Lee remains stronger than he was in the wake of the 2013 shutdown (40% favorable). These movements exceed this poll’s 2.5% margin of error.

Of course, Utah’s statewide officials generally worry more about Republican renomination than about general elections. Mike Lee’s favorability is higher among self-identified Republicans (68% favorable, 27% unfavorable), and much higher among “strong Republicans” (80% favorable, 17% unfavorable). If Republican nomination rules favor the most devoted Republican voters in 2016, then Mike Lee may have a clear path to renomination, despite his generally unfavorable showing among Utah voters generally.

Lesser known officials remain lesser known

Utah voters remain mostly unfamiliar with Sean Reyes, the new attorney general (24% no opinion, 54% favorable).

Voters are even less familiar with Greg Hughes, the new Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives (55% no opinion). Though Greg Hughes attracted plenty of critical press coverage during an ethics battle six years ago, the majority of respondents today express no opinion about him. In addition to the 55% expressing no opinion, 25% were favorable and 20% unfavorable.

Voters support non-discrimination law

Utahns overwhelmingly support “a statewide law to protect Utahns against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” with 72% in favor (of which 51% “strongly favor”) and only 14% opposed.

Though Latter-day Saints actively worked against same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2008, LDS officials announced support for this sort of statewide law about a week before the poll hit the field. Perhaps partly as a result, 68% of self-identified Latter-day Saint respondents expressed support for a statewide non-discrimination law, with 39% “strongly favor[ing]” it. Only 15% of LDS respondents oppose a non-discrimination law, with 17% neutral.

Support was higher still among other respondents. Among the non-religious, 89% favor (and 81% strongly favor) a non-discrimination law. Among religious adherents who are not LDS, 75% favor (and 67% strongly favor) such a law.

Voters ambivalent about daylight saving time

With the Legislature considering taking Utah off daylight saving time, the poll also asked respondents about three possible options: Keeping things as they are, setting clocks permanently forward an hour, or keeping clocks permanently set back an hour. Respondents were asked to indicate their support for each separate possibility.

As it happens, all three options attracted similar levels of support and opposition. Roughly as many respondents favor keeping things as they are (37%) as favor keeping clocks permanently set back an hour (37%). Slightly more respondents favor setting clocks permanently forward (41%).

Oddly, each possibility attracts more opposition than support. No matter what we do with our clocks, or even if we do nothing, more people will be dissatisfied than satisfied.

Views about daylight savings don’t have strong relationships with partisanship, age, or gender.

Polling details

The poll, fielded by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, was administered online to a representative sample of Utahns who voted in at least one even-year general election from 2004-2014. The poll was in the field from February 2-9, the second week of Utah’s annual legislative session. Exact question wordings, along with details about sampling, response rates, and weighting, are available at the Utah Voter Poll website.

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Should we invite them to the party?

Fifty-six percent say that political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state, while 44% say that they are private associations and cannot be regulated.

The author would like to thank Professors Mike Barber and Chris Karpowitz for advice and assistance they provided with this blog.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this blog has also done some polling work for Count My Vote in the past.

Political parties have a complicated history in American politics. Several founding fathers disdained them because they feared the effects of conflict. However, as the nation developed a routinized politics, the founding fathers lost their dread and became founders of our two-party system.

As the American political system developed, the question shifted from whether or not we would have a party system to who would control the political parties. Elected officials, party administrators, and rank-and-file members competed for control. These separate entities today all claim a share of a party’s identity and structure.

The Republican Party administrators in Utah have re-energized the tensions that naturally exist between these entities. They have asserted a right to dictate rules to select candidates, a decision that puts them at odds with the compromises, legal and political, that party administrators, voters, and elected officials have negotiated over the last two centuries. A compromise that, according to one political scientist, assigns political parties a status akin to a “public utility.”

The question, once again, at issue is really who controls the parties. While party officials are quick to claim control, rank-and-file voters do not believe that control is exclusive. In the February Utah Voter Poll we asked, “Which statement comes closest to your view? Political parties are private associations and cannot be regulated by the state or Political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state.”

Fifty-six percent say that political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state, while 44% say that they are private associations and cannot be regulated.

Public's View on Political Parties

As expected, significant differences exist between the parties. Indeed, there is almost a monotonic effect as the scale moves from a “Strong Democrat” to a “Strong Republican.” Eighty-two percent of those who identify as “strong Democrats” express the opinion that parties are public institutions, whereas only 35% of the “strong Republicans” do so.

View of Political Party by Party Affiliation

And of course, the pure independents (those who choose not to identify with any party) find themselves right between the two parties, but more likely to choose the “public institution” category.

The findings raise an interesting question: is it the ideology of the party or is it institutional self-interest that explains the pattern? For example, do Republicans view the party as a private association because they normally oppose government regulations or because they think it will dilute the significant advantage the party enjoys in the state? The same calculus applies to the Democrats, but only in reverse. Do they favor regulation of the parties because that is what Democrats conventionally believe or because they think it will make it possible for them to finally compete politically in the state?

The February UVP asked a question that may point toward an answer. The question provided a choice where individuals could choose between an advantage enjoyed by the major parties and a concept related to election administration: ballot access. The question asks: “State law says that political parties need to receive a certain level of support from voters before their candidates can appear on the election ballot. Some say that this gives an unfair advantage to the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats). Others say it keeps the election ballot from becoming too cluttered with candidates. Which position comes closest to your view?”

Fifty-six percent say that “all parties should receive access to the ballot,” and 44% say, “Only parties that receive a certain level of support should be on the ballot.” The proportions are identical to the “public institutions/private associations” question.

Access to Ballot

However, the partisan distributions differ noticeably. Support for ballot access remains relatively stable across all categories for Democrats and even fairly high for the Independents who lean Republican. Only the “not so strong Republicans” and “strong Republicans” have a majority who want restrictions on ballot access.

Access to Ballot by Party Affiliation

If the major political parties were motivated solely by their concerns about regulation, we would not have expected this pattern. What seems clear is that the “strong Republicans” respond to these two questions as if they know they have the most to gain by preserving the status quo.

As a test of this idea, I combined those individuals who answered “only parties that receive a certain level” and “parties are private associations” into one category. I am interested in the characteristics of the individuals who would choose those two options as opposed to the other combinations. Selection of those two choices seems to indicate a preference for preserving advantages. I use a probit model to estimate the probability of selecting that combination of options as opposed to the other combinations.

The figure below displays the probability of selecting both of the options described above by the different partisan categories. The individuals most likely to choose both categories are the “strong republicans.” Democrats are also quite different from all categories of Republicans.  But the figure essentially shows that the “strong Republicans” have a much higher likelihood of choosing both response categories that preserve the advantages they currently enjoy in the state.

Party Identification Predictions

Political parties have an interesting relationship with the American republic. They are private associations that engage in a highly public activity that is subsidized by the state (e.g. cost of elections, ballot access). The parties help to organize elections, but the Constitution gives control of elections to the states. And perhaps it is that tension which made the founding fathers both fear and embrace them.

About Kelly Patterson: Kelly Patterson is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a senior scholar at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

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What do Mike Lee and Elizabeth Warren have in common?

Senator Lee has the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senator in the 113th Congress.

At first glance, it may seem as though Utah’s Tea Party Senator, Mike Lee, and Massachusetts’ liberal firebrand, Elizabeth Warren, may not have much in common. In terms of policy, they disagree on almost everything. However, there is one area in which the two are quite similar. Lee and Warren share the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senators in their respective parties.

How do we measure the ideological positions of senators? Political scientists often use a measure of legislators’ ideology called NOMINATE (Nominal, Three-Step, Estimation) scores. These scores are based on the roll-call votes cast by legislators and condense the thousands of votes cast in the House and Senate into a single score representing a legislator’s typical ideology. The scores range from -1 to 1 with lower values indicating more liberal voting while positive scores indicate more conservative voting records. Using this measure, Lee scored a .991 in the 113th Congress while Warren scored -.622. There were no senators with scores larger than Lee’s or smaller than Warren’s. The chart below shows a histogram of senators’ ideology scores and notes Lee and Warren’s scores at the ideological extremes.

Warren and Lee are their party's most extreme members

Another way of thinking about a legislator’s ideology is to consider how far she is from the typical legislator in her party. By this measure, Lee was .56 from the median Republican (the median Republican senator’s score in the 113th Congress was .43) while Warren was .29 from the median Democrat (the median Democratic senator’s score in the 113th Congress was -.33). Using this measure, Senator Lee has the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senator in the 113th Congress.

Given that this blog focuses on Utah politics, lets take some time to consider Senator Lee’s ideology score in greater detail. One reason that Lee could appear so far from the typical Republican senator is that he is voting in line with his constituents (Utah voters), who are also more conservative than the typical American voter. To investigate this possibility, I plot the average ideological position of each state’s voters as measured in a large nationwide survey in 2010 (the year Lee was first elected to office) and each Republican senator’s ideology score. The vertical axis shows Republican senators’ ideology scores from the most moderate Republicans (Collins from Maine) to the most conservative (Lee). The horizontal axis shows the average ideology of each state’s electorate from moderate (South Dakota) to conservative (Louisiana). The two arrows point to Senators Lee and Hatch.

Senator Ideology and Voter Ideology

The figure shows that Lee’s conservative voting record is not necessarily because of Utah voters’ policy preferences. Orrin Hatch, who represents the exact same voters as Lee, has a much more moderate voting record (he is lower on the vertical axis). Furthermore, states like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama have more conservative voters (larger values on the horizontal axis) but their senators have acquired voting records that are more moderate than Lee’s.

Let’s also consider Lee’s voting record in the context of other Utah politicians. The figure below shows the ideological locations of 7 of the last 8 people to serve in the House and Senate from Utah. Mia Love is not shown because she has yet to acquire a voting record. Lee is by far the most conservative of the bunch.

Ideology of Recent Utah Legislators

How does Lee’s voting record compare to other legislators from Utah? For a more historical picture, the histogram below shows the ideological scores for all 49 representatives and senators who have served from Utah since Utah became a state in 1896. Again, Lee stands out among his Utah colleagues as the most conservative member of the Utah delegation ever.

Ideologies of All Utah Legislators

Does any of this matter for the upcoming 2016 election? Because of Utah’s conservative electorate, it is unlikely that Lee would lose to a Democrat in November. However, given the recent changes to Utah’s caucus and primary system, it is possible that he could face a difficult and expensive primary challenge in 2016. Political science research suggests that legislators who are “out of step” with the ideology of their voters are more likely to face challenges in the primary and general elections.

To investigate this possibility, I first use a statistical model to predict the relationship between a Republican senator’s primary electorate and her ideology score. I then measure the degree to which the actual values from the data deviate from the model’s prediction. The distance between the data and the model prediction gives us a rough estimate of how “out of step” a legislator is from her primary electorate. Positive deviations indicate legislators who are more conservative than their primary electorate. Negative deviations indicate legislators who are more liberal than their primary electorate.

The figure below shows that Lee has the largest deviation score of any Republican senator in the Senate today. Furthermore, the deviation score is positive, indicating that Lee is more conservative than we would expect from the composition of the Republican primary electorate in Utah. This is unusual since we expect candidates to strategically position themselves between an ideologically extreme primary electorate and a more moderate general electorate. Consequently, Lee is vulnerable to a moderate challenger in a primary election.

Legislator Ideology and Primary Electorate

 

About Michael Barber: Michael Barber is an assistant professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. He studies legislative politics in the United States. More of his research is available at http://michaeljaybarber.com

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