Recap: The 2014 Utah Legislature

I’ve just posted several items about the recently concluded legislative session. Here’s a quick overview:

The 2014 Legislature: Slow out of the gate, frantic in the stretch. Legislators considered 786 bills, but a procedural change caused a major crunch in the last few days of the session.

Once again, consensus voting reigns in the Utah Legislature. Votes seldom fail in the Legislature. Instead, most bills pass with broad bipartisan support. This post also lists how frequently each legislator votes “nay.” Rep McCay and Rep Anderegg top the list.

The closest votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature. The title says it all.

Who sponsored the most bills in the 2014 Utah Legislature? Some legislators introduced no bills. Sen. Bramble led the pack with 26 bills.

Who missed the most votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature?. Senators miss a lot of votes, as do budget chairs and some floor leaders.

Bonus: Here are some items I posted while the session was still in progress.

Did changing the calendar create a major crunch day in the Legislature? (Posted March 13th, the morning of the final day.) The answer, posted earlier today, is apparently “yes.”

How busy has the Legislature been so far? Checking in on the workload as of week 5 of the 7-week session, and seeing early signs of the end-of-session crunch that was already developing.

Does it matter that the Utah Senate votes twice on each bill? (Posted February 11th.) The Senate holds two floor votes on each bill, unlike the House. But Senators tend to skip the first floor vote, and they never reverse themselves on the second floor vote, which might leave one wondering what the point of holding two floor votes is.

I’ve got lots more statistics about the Legislature on my personal website that I don’t plan to write up for a blog post. You can poke around to see what I’ve got by clicking here.

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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Who missed the most votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature?

Legislators miss a lot of votes in the Utah Legislature, and some miss more than others. As the figure below shows, there wasn’t much change in the overall absenteeism rate, with 12% of Senators and 6% of Representatives missing a typical vote.

Percent of legislators absent during an average vote, by chamber and year

Percent of legislators absent during an average vote, by chamber and year

The table below shows legislators with the top 10 and bottom 10 attendance rates. (Due to a tie for 10th, there are actually 11 in the first table.) You can click here for data on all 104 legislators.

Westwood, John R. R House 0.0%
Poulson, Marie H. D House 0.5%
Eliason, Steve R House 0.6%
Handy, Stephen G. R House 0.8%
Kennedy, Michael S. R House 0.9%
Redd, Edward H. R House 0.9%
Cox, Jon R House 1.1%
Christofferson, Kay J. R House 1.5%
Wiley, Larry B. D House 1.5%
Anderson, Jerry B. R House 1.8%
Greenwood, Richard A. R House 1.8%
Hughes, Gregory H. R House 18.4%
Stanard, Jon E. R House 18.8%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 18.8%
Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 19.0%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 19.3%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 20.6%
Madsen, Mark B. R Senate 21.2%
Lockhart, Rebecca D. R House 22.1%
Brown, Melvin R. R House 23.6%
Hillyard, Lyle W. R Senate 28.6%

A few things jump out:

  • The 10 legislators with the best attendance records are all in the House. Maybe that’s because the Senate holds two floor votes on each bill (unlike the House), and Senators have a habit of skipping the first of those two votes. (I gave the data on this in a previous post.)
  • Those responsible for putting together the budget tend to miss a vote. The House and Senate budget chairs are Mel Brown and Lyle Hillyard; their vice chairs are Jerry Stevenson and Brad Wilson. Three of these four show up in the “most absent” list (and the fourth, Brad Wilson, barely escaped.
  • It’s common to see legislative leaders in the “most absent” list, which may explain the presence of Becky Lockhart (Speaker), Greg Hughes (House majority whip), and Ralph Okerlund (Senate majority leader). With only seven weeks in the session, they leave the floor at times to handle their leadership duties. (Of course, a medical emergency also pushed Sen. Okerlund’s absentee rate up.)
  • It’s also common to see active bill sponsors miss a lot of votes. Curt Bramble sponsored more bills than anybody this year and also missed a lot of votes. With only seven weeks, an active bill sponsor will need to leave the floor at times to work on legislation.

As for the rest of the legislators in the “most absent” club, I am unaware of any special circumstances (budget duties, leadership responsibilities, or active bill sponsorship) that would explain their high absentee rate.

Update: I’ve learned that Rep. Jon Stanard was excused from the last day of the session to attend a family funeral. Given how many votes were held on the last day, this unfortunate event undoubtedly contributed to his high absentee rate.

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Who sponsored the most bills in the 2014 Utah Legislature?

Legislators vary widely in how many bills they introduce. Presiding officers (Speaker and Senate President) seldom sponsor bills, and that was the case again this year. Neither Speaker Lockhart nor President Niederhauser introduced any legislation. (Lockhart’s education technology initiative was formally introduced by Rep Francis Gibson, not by the Speaker.)

Beyond that, bill sponsorship is perhaps more a matter of personal preference than anything else. So without further commentary, here are the data. You can make your own inferences about possible explanations.

First, let’s look first at the 10 least active bill sponsors. (There is a six-way tie for seventh place, so there are actually more than 10 legislators in this table.)

Legislator Bills introduced
Grover, Keith House R 0
Lockhart, Rebecca D. House R 0
Niederhauser, Wayne L. Senate R 0
Westwood, John R. House R 0
Fisher, Janice M. House D 1
Nelson, Merrill F. House R 1
Barlow, Stewart House R 2
Duckworth, Susan House D 2
Mathis, John G. House R 2
McCay, Daniel House R 2
Sanpei, Dean House R 2
Tanner, Earl D. House R 2

And now the 10 most active bill sponsors. (There are 11 in this table due to a three-way tie for 9th place.)

Eliason, Steve House R 16
Harper, Wayne A. Senate R 16
Jenkins, Scott K. Senate R 16
Hillyard, Lyle W. Senate R 17
Osmond, Aaron Senate R 17
Stephenson, Howard A. Senate R 17
Valentine, John L. Senate R 17
Nielson, Jim House R 18
Weiler, Todd Senate R 19
Powell, Kraig House R 20
Bramble, Curtis S. Senate R 26

It’s no surprise that Senator Bramble leads the charts. He does so almost every year. In fact, when you at all legislators who served at any time between 2007 and 2014, Sen. Bramble has the highest overall average, coming in at 22.3 bills introduced per session served. He’s followed by Lyle Hillyard (21.1 bills/session), Greg Bell (18.0 bills/session), Wayne Harper (17.3), and Todd Weiler (17.0).

However, Hillyard edges Bramble out when it comes to legislation actually enacted. Lyle Hillyard passes 18.9 bills/session, compared to 16.6 bills/per session for Bramble. Looks like we’ve got a rivalry brewing, folks.

You can find data for all 104 legislators here.

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The closest votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature

Close votes are rare in the Utah Legislature. Instead, the typical bill passes with over 90% of legislators voting the same way. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Here, I’ve listed the 20 closest votes in each chamber this year. Click a bill’s name to read its content; click a vote breakdown to see how individual legislators voted. (If you’re looking for the closest votes from past years, click here.)

The 20 closest votes in the 2014 Utah House

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
SB0257 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-37-0 1
HB0140 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
HB0358 House/ failed 36-38-1 2
SB0097S03 House/ failed 35-37-3 2
HB0297 House/ failed 35-38-2 3
SB0023 House/ failed 33-36-6 3
SB0072S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-35-2 3
SB0237 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-35-1 4
HB0077 House/ failed 32-37-6 5
HB0091S01 House/ failed 35-40-0 5
HB0409 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-33-3 6
SB0053S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-32-4 7
SB0072S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-31-6 7
HB0094 House/ failed 32-40-3 8
HB0228S01 House/ failed 33-41-1 8
HJR008S01 House/ failed 32-41-2 9
SB0093S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-31-4 9
SB0097S03 House/ floor amendment failed 31-40-4 9
SB0179S03 House/ floor amendment 39-29-7 10
SB0179s02 House/ floor amendment 39-29-7 10

The 20 closest votes in the 2014 Utah Senate

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HB0418S03 Senate/ failed 13-13-3 0
SB0202 Senate/ failed 14-14-1 0
HB0020S02 Senate/ circled 14-13-2 1
HB0020S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-13-1 2
SJR015S01 Senate/ failed 13-15-1 2
HB0120S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-12-2 3
SB0164 Senate/ failed 14-11-4 3
SB0202 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SJR003 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-13-0 3
SB0012 Senate/ failed 12-16-1 4
SB0048S01 Senate/ failed 12-8-9 4
SB0111S03 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0114 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0243 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-11-3 4
HB0140 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-9-5 6
HB0356S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 17-11-1 6
HB0356S01 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 17-11-1 6
SB0112S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-10-3 6
SB0157 Senate/ failed 11-17-1 6
SB0249S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 17-11-1 6

You’ll find lots more statistics and analysis of the Utah Legislature here.

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Once again, consensus voting reigns in the Utah Legislature

Legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party.

Utah legislators really don’t like to vote “no.” If a bill comes to a vote, you can be all but certain that it will succeed. The figure below tells the story; for each year since 2007, it shows the average size of the voting majority (as a percent). In 2014, the average House vote saw 93% of Representatives voting the same way; in the Senate, the average was 96%.

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

This means that Republicans and Democrats typically vote together. A “party-line” vote—that is, a vote where a majority of Republicans votes against a majority of Democrats—is rare in the Legislature. In 2014, only 10% of House votes and 5% of Senate votes were decided along party lines. Those numbers were marginally lower than in recent years (detailed data is here). The figure shows the trend:

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

We shouldn’t be surprised by this result. The 2012 elections gave us the second-most Republican Legislature in the past 80 years. Democrats control 14 of 75 House seats and 5 of 29 Senate seats. By playing nice, Democrats ensure that Republicans will reciprocate. In fact, Democrats managed to pass 49% of their bills this year despite their small numbers. (Data for previous years is here.) The chart below shows that this was one of their highest rates in the past several years—a success rate only 15 percentage points lower than the 64% success rate for Republican-sponsored bills.

Party batting averages, by year

Party batting averages, by year

So we’ve seen that legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party. That doesn’t mean bills don’t die, though. Lots of bills die. But they die because they run out of time, not because they were voted down.

If we look only at bills that made it out of committee and had at least one floor vote, 80% were successfully enacted while 20% were not. Let’s look at that latter group for a moment. Of these bills, though, only 18% were actually voted down on the floor; the remaining 82% simply didn’t complete their journey through the legislative process before the session ended. Bills die because they time out, not because they are voted down.

Let’s get to the fun part now. Legislators obviously vary in how excited they are to vote “no.” First let’s list legislators who vote “no” less than 4% of the time. You’ll notice they are almost all in the Senate.

Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 1%
Osmond, Aaron R Senate 1%
Adams, J. Stuart R Senate 1%
Niederhauser, Wayne L. R Senate 1%
Weiler, Todd R Senate 1%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 1%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 2%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 2%
Knudson, Peter C. R Senate 2%
Thatcher, Daniel W. R Senate 2%
Shiozawa, Brian E. R Senate 2%
Reid, Stuart C. R Senate 3%
Eliason, Steve R House 3%
Hinkins, David P. R Senate 3%

Next we’ll list legislators who vote “no” 10% of the time or more. They’re mostly in the House.

Menlove, Ronda Rudd R House 10%
Chavez-Houck, Rebecca D House 10%
Briscoe, Joel K. D House 10%
Dayton, Margaret R Senate 10%
Romero, Angela D House 10%
Cox, Jon R House 11%
Wilcox, Ryan D. R House 11%
Roberts, Marc K. R House 11%
Knotwell, John R House 12%
Greene, Brian M. R House 13%
Bird, Jim R House 13%
Anderegg, Jacob L. R House 15%
McCay, Daniel R House 15%

You might expect most “no” votes to come from the minority party. Though a few Democrats did find their way into the second table, legislators at both extremes tend to be Republicans. We seem to be seeing intraparty ideological splits among Republicans here more than cross-party disagreements.

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The 2014 Legislature: Slow out of the gate, frantic in the stretch

Clearly, something caused the Legislature to fall behind in its bill processing this year.

Utah legislators introduced 786 bills and resolutions in the 2014 session—fewer than the 800 we saw in 2009, but still higher than usual. However, a procedural change caused legislators to delay action on most of those bills until later in the session than usual. The result may have been an even more hurried process than usual, with even less time than in the past to consider legislation before voting on it.

What changed?

The Utah Constitution requires the Legislature to enact a budget during each year’s legislative session. Budget negotiations typically run late into the night in the final days of the session. Hoping to avoid that last-minute outcome this year, legislative leaders changed the session’s 7-week calendar. They deleted all standing committee hearings from the session’s first week, replacing them with budget hearings.

Of course, it’s the standing committees that consider the Legislature’s hundreds of bills each year. Putting them off for a week meant legislators had only 6 weeks in practice (instead of the usual 7) to consider legislation.

Bills were introduced later

Legislators continued to introduce legislation as early in the session as has been typical in the past few years. In 2014, the average bill was introduced on day 14 of the session. Compare that to day 14.7 in 2013, day 14.1 in 2012, day 15.5 in 2011, and day 12.4 in 2010. (More data.)

But the one-week hiatus on committee hearings apparently caused a bill processing backlog that legislators never overcame. As a result, bills tended to have their first floor vote much later in the session than in the past. Take a look:

Year Average day when bills had their first vote Average day of final passage
2009 25.8 36.1
2010 25.4 36.8
2011 26.8 36.4
2012 26.7 36.4
2013 26.2 36.8
2014 29.6 38.7

From 2009 through 2013, the average bill had its first floor vote on day 26 or 27 (out of 45). This year, we saw a 3 day jump in that average, to day 30.

We also saw a bump in the average bill’s final day of passage. There are 45 days in the session. The average bill passed on day 36 or 37 from 2009 through 2013. This year, that jumped by 2 days, to day 39

The final week was more chaotic

The final two days of the legislative session were particularly crazy this year. Of the 484 bills passed by the Legislature this year, almost half (45%) received their final vote during the session’s final two days. The final two days have always been busy, of course. The table below shows that it’s routine for more than one-third of bills to receive their final vote so late. But this year nevertheless saw a distinct rise.

Year Total bills passed Bills passed in last 2 days % passed in last 2 days
2007 423 153 36%
2008 436 150 34%
2009 518 189 36%
2010 481 168 35%
2011 504 195 39%
2012 478 183 38%
2013 524 203 39%
2014 484 217 45%

Wrapping up

Clearly, something caused the Legislature to fall behind in its bill processing this year. The typical bill had its first vote much later in the session than in the past, and a much larger share of bills than usual received their final approval in the session’s last two days. I worry that legislators found themselves forced to vote on bills that they had not had adequate time to read or discuss.

It seems likely that the revised legislative calendar is the cause. If canceling standing committee hearings had the desired effect of getting the budget done in a more timely manner, without the usual last-minute late-night negotiations, then maybe this was an appropriate trade-off. But if the last week still saw budget negotiations stretching into the session’s final minutes, then maybe revising the calendar wasn’t worth the cost.

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Did changing the calendar create a major crunch day in the Legislature?

Legislators can either rush bills through the process with minimal debate in order to clear the backlog, or they can take a more methodical pace even if it means some good bills don’t get to come to a vote before midnight.

Today Utah legislators will put in exhausting hours as they race to complete their business before midnight, the constitutionally-mandated end of the annual legislative session. They’ll do so with an immense number of bills left to consider.

There have been 784 bills and resolutions introduced so far during the 2014 session. That number may rise slightly today, but it’s already a substantial increase from the 738 bills as of a couple weeks ago, which was already being declared an all-time high.

Yet the Legislature has passed only 325 bills so far. That doesn’t mean they’ve voted down hundreds of bills; in fact, the Legislature hardly ever votes down a bill (see also here and here). Rather, it means they just haven’t had enough time to process all those bills. Hundreds of bills remain on the docket.

By contrast, here’s how many bills had been passed by the second-to-last day of the session (i.e. yesterday evening) in the past few years:

Year Bills passed by second-to-last day
2009 506
2010 420
2011 449
2012 423
2013 467
2014 325

Let’s look at it another way. The chart below shows the total number of bills passed by day of session. Day of session ranges from 1 through 46. (You’re probably thinking that the Utah Constitution establishes a 45 day session; that’s correct, but with President’s Day thrown in the middle as a non-counted day, that means 46 days pass from start to finish.) We have yet to see how sharply the line for 2014 will rise on the last day; for now, the chart just shows it leveling off.

Total bills passed, day by day

What changed in 2014?

It’s clear that 2014 has lagged all session long. What gives? I can think of two possible explanations.

First, it’s possible that legislators have decided to spend more time considering each bill, allowing bills to spend more time in committee and more time in floor debate before coming to a vote. There has been a trend in recent years toward passing bills faster and faster (see here for analysis and here for raw statistics), so a reversal might indicate more careful vetting before passing legislation.

Second, it might just reflect a calendaring change. In past years, the Legislature would start holding standing committee meetings right at the beginning of the session. Those committees would begin working on bills and reporting them to the floor for votes right away. But that changed this year. Standing committees did not meet until the second week of session. This change allowed appropriations committees to spend more time on the budget during the first week, in hopes that the budget could be finalized earlier in the session than has been the case in the past. But this change may also have put the Legislature far behind schedule on routine bills.

I think the second explanation is more likely than the first. I’ll have data to test my hunch in a couple weeks.

What will the Legislature do today?

With an immense number of bills remaining on the docket, legislators have two choices: Legislators can either rush bills through the process with minimal debate in order to clear the backlog, or they can take a more methodical pace even if it means some good bills don’t get to come to a vote before midnight.

As noted above, the trend in recent years has been toward rushing bills through the process faster and faster, resulting in less and less time for vetting. If the revised legislative calendar has resulted in improved vetting of the budget by appropriations committees, that’s good. But if it results in less careful vetting of routine bills, that might not be good.

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How busy has the Legislature been so far?

Today the Tribune quotes Sen. John Valentine reporting that the Legislature has introduced a record high number of bills so far, but that it has passed a record low number. I thought I’d give some additional numbers for perspective.

Sen. Valentine says that as of last Friday (the end of the fifth week of the seven-week session), legislators had introduced 738 bills (a “historic high” for the fifth week) and passed only 138 (“tied with 2007″ for the record low for the fifth week).

My data stretch back only to 2007, and it appears that Sen. Valentine must count bills differently than I do, since 738 isn’t even close to a “historic high” in my data; there were 765 bills by the fifth week of the 2009 session, for example. (My guess is that Valentine isn’t including resolutions in his count; I do.)

Here’s how it’s looked each year since 2007:

Year Introduced (in first 5 weeks) Passed (in first 5 weeks)
2007 717 140
2008 723 164
2009 765 184
2010 679 163
2011 704 159
2012 708 159
2013 687 169
2014 738 (from Trib) 138 (from Trib)

This might just be a methodological difference, though. I include both bills and resolutions in my totals, and it’s possible that Senator Valentine is counting only bills (omitting resolutions).

You can find lots more bill statistics for the Utah Legislature here.

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Who is a Better Filter, Caucus Attendees or Primary Voters?

Every system requires trade-offs between competing values.  But we ought not to pretend that one set of filters has virtues that are simply not present. 

In a previous post, I examined the relationship between attitudes in the public and support for the Count My Vote initiative.  That post showed that support for the reform was strong across all groups except for one: those who are the most conservative and consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party.  Even half of all strong Republicans support the reform.  Opposition is confined to a specific group within the Republican Party.

That kind of argument does not matter to some.  They base their argument not on what large segments of the public want but on ideas about how the political system functions.  That is fair.  Arguments about the proper political system do not start and end with public opinion.  Indeed, many of the arguments, such as the one promoted by Paul Mero, rest on the method by which public opinion gets filtered.

As he so eloquently states, “we have to find nonintrusive ways to filter the negative impact of irresponsible citizenship – irresponsible meaning single-issue voters, special-interest parasites, and uninformed citizens who think and vote based on selfish emotions. Utah’s caucus and convention system is that filter. And it works.”

Mero’s political system looks like Model 1.  In this case delegates selected at the neighborhood caucuses provide the filter between public opinion and the nomination.

Model 1

Model 2 is the system proposed by the Count My Vote initiative.  In this case, those who participate in the primary system provide the filter between public opinion and the nomination.

Model 2
The soundness of Mero’s argument rests on the quality of the filter.  According to him, primary voters are “single-issue voters, special interest parasites, and uninformed citizens who think and vote on selfish emotions.”

These are empirical questions.   One easily tested proposition is that those who are most likely to attend a caucus or convention are more informed than those who are less likely to attend.  In the previous post, we showed that those who were most supportive of the neighborhood caucus system were strong conservatives who identified with the Republican party.

Just after the caucuses in 2012, my colleagues and I asked participants in the Utah Voter Poll whether or not they attended their neighborhood caucus meetings.  This question allows us to examine whether self-reported caucus participants are better educated or more knowledgeable than non-participants.  (The Utah Voter Poll is a sample of voters only, so those who do not participate in Utah politics in any way are excluded.)

With respect to education, in our sample both caucus attenders and non-attending voters are highly educated – on average, they have had some college-level schooling.  To illustrate this point, below is a figure showing the average education levels of our two groups on a 6-point education scale ranging from some high school or less all the way to post-graduate education.  There is essentially no difference between the two groups.  The average education level for self-reported caucus attenders is 4.14 (which is the equivalent of having some college), and the average education for those who are less likely to attend caucuses is 3.92.  The difference between those averages is not statistically significant in our sample.

Average Education Levels of Caucus and Non-Caucus Attenders
But what about levels of knowledge about Utah or national politics? Do those who actually attend the caucuses know more about the political system?  To answer that question, I took advantage of the fact that the Utah Voter Poll is a panel of voters, many of whom have answered our survey questions at several different points in time. In March of 2013, my colleagues and I asked respondents to our Utah Voter Poll a series of simple factual questions about state and national politics.  (See my colleague Adam Brown’s discussion of the questions and the results here). We matched the survey responses from 2012 about caucus attendance with those same individuals’ 2013 responses to the knowledge questions.  In all, we have over 200 Utah voters who answered both the caucus attendance question and the knowledge questions.

As the figure below shows, caucus attenders appear to be slightly more knowledgeable than non-attenders, but the differences are small and not statistically significant.  (In other words, we cannot be sure that the difference between the two groups is greater than zero.)  The figure below compares the average number of knowledge questions self-reported caucus attenders got right with the average for those who did not attend.  The brackets show the 95% confidence interval for each average.  Individuals who attend the caucus do not have all that much more political knowledge than individuals who do not attend.

Average Knowledge Scores for Caucus and Non-Caucus Attenders
The other thing to remember is that the primary electorate includes the caucus attenders, and when we account for that fact, the already small gap shown above narrows even more.  In other words, it does not appear that one group is highly knowledgeable, while the other group is ignorant of Utah or national politics.  In fact, the far more noticeable trend is that knowledge of Utah politics is low among both groups.  Of the four questions about Utah politics we asked, both caucus attenders and non-attenders got about half right and half wrong, on average.  Both groups did much better in answering the six questions about national politics, where the average was 70% to 80% correct.

Thus, it does not appear that education or political knowledge are the defining factors that separate caucus attenders from non-attenders.  The difference between these two groups is not levels of information, but rather ideology:  research from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy shows that caucus attenders and delegates are much more ideological, even after controlling for knowledge, gender, income, etc.  This result is true in Utah and nationally.

The profound differences in ideology can be seen in the figure below, which shows the proportion of Republican caucus attenders and non-attenders in Utah who identify as strong conservatives.  (This analysis also focuses on the UVP respondents who answered both the caucus and the knowledge questions, but this time, we zero in on Republicans because Democrats have a different ideological mix.)  Fully 50 percent of Republican caucus attenders describe themselves as  “strongly conservative,” compared to about 30 percent of non-attenders, who tend to be more moderate.  And unlike the relatively small knowledge differences, this 20-point difference in ideology is statistically significant.  (In other words, we are very confident that the difference is not zero.)

Ideology

Some advocates of the caucus system would say that this ideological difference is a good thing: perhaps the strongest conservatives should choose the Republican nominee.  But that is a very different argument than the one Paul Mero articulates above.  And having a nomination system that privileges the most intense ideologues also has a downside: it essentially means that those who choose the candidates in a caucus system tend to wear thick ideological lenses as they view and assess the candidates.  Such lenses often lead to what social scientists call “motivated reasoning,” a phenomenon where individuals’ choices are dictated primarily by their ideological dispositions.

I grant that no nomination system – no filter between public opinion and nominations – is perfect.  Every system requires trade-offs between competing values.  But we ought not to pretend that one set of filters has virtues that are simply not present.  As Utahns make their choices about the process, they should be fully cognizant of what they specifically gain and lose when they make the nomination process dependent on this particular group of individuals.

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

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On Count My Vote, Who is Toeing the Party Line?

Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.

Utahns might have the opportunity to reform the caucus/convention system if the proponents of Count My Vote  can qualify the initiative for the ballot.  In November of 2013, researchers at CSED fielded a Utah Voter Poll (UVP) and asked several questions about support for the initiative and reasons for the support.

The poll contains good news for Count My Vote proponents — 64% of UVP respondents favored moving to a primary system. The UVP panel is recruited from actual Utah voters and so this result reflects the current view of those individuals who are likely to vote in November 2014.  Only 9% answered “don’t know,” a relatively small proportion for an initiative a full year before election day.1

Support for Initiative

Question Wording: A proposed initiative seeks to change our electoral system so that Utahns “select political party nominees through a direct vote of the people in a regular primary election.”  Currently, Utah’s system for choosing nominees includes neighborhood caucuses and a state party convention, where party members can meet to discuss the candidates and choose a nominee.   In regards to Utah’s electoral system, which of the following comes closer to your views?

The debate over reform has a clear ideological dimension. In one of the best books written on the politics of reform, The Limits of Electoral Reform, Shaun Bowler and Todd Donavan argue that reform politics have an identifiable dynamic.  Those proposing reforms normally disrupt the qualities of a political system, a fact that results in some counter-mobilization.  The subsequent campaign provides information by which voters recognize whether or not their specific interest may be harmed by the change.  Consequently, support for reforms vary by partisan and ideological interests.

This dynamic of partisan and ideological factions identifying and favoring their political self-interest emerges when we examine support for the reform by party identification.  Only a majority of two categories express support for the status quo: those who identify as strong Republicans and those who identify with some third party.  Most interestingly, the battle is quite close among the strong Republicans, with only a bare majority expressing support.  Otherwise, most all other identifiers support the reform.

Support for Initiative by PID

What this means for Utah is that conservatives are counter-mobilizing to attempt to defeat Count My Vote because they want to preserve their control over the Republican Party and thus over Utah’s one-party system.

Ideology tells essentially the same story.  Only one group among the five ideological categories wants the status quo: those who identify as strongly conservative.  Support for the reform emerges abruptly as the scale moves from right to left.  Individuals who are moderately conservative overwhelmingly support the reform.

Support for Initiative by Ideology

The group that stands to benefit the most—or at least the one that seems to oppose the reform—actively supports the Tea Party.  Individuals who consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party, only 12% of the November 2013 UVP sample, overwhelmingly oppose the reform.  Almost 80% of the 88% percent of Utah voters who do not consider themselves Tea Party supporters favor the reform.

Support for Initiative by Tea Party Support

Together, the figures on party identification, ideology, and Tea Party support suggest that it is one particular segment of the Republican Party that opposes reform.  To test this idea on many of the possible predictors of favoring or opposing reform simultaneously, I use regression analysis.  Logistic regression is an appropriate method of analysis when the question of interest has two categories.  In addition to party identification, ideology, and active Tea Party support, I also include several other variables or predictors as statistical controls.  These include gender, income, education, and age.

The model indicates that when controlling for multiple possible predictors at the same time, party identification does not matter.2 However, ideology and being an active supporter of the Tea Party do.

The graph below shows the probabilities for different categories of ideology.  The probabilities are estimated holding all of the other variables constant at their average.
The line shows just how steep the decline is across ideology.  As individuals become less conservative, the probability of opposing the reform drops to almost zero.   Importantly, for all categories except “strongly conservative,” the probability of opposing the reform effort is well below 50 percent.

Probability Figure for Ideology

A similar effect occurs for Tea Party support.  As an individual moves from not actively supporting to actively supporting the Tea Party, the probability of opposing the reform increases by almost 30 percentage points.

These findings raise an interesting question: Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.  If parties are the vehicles to aggregate and channel opinion to elected officials, the Republican Party seems only to be listening to one part of its party: those who are active supporters of the Tea Party and strongly conservative.

Strong Republicans make up 39% of self-identified Republicans, and only about half of the strong republicans say they are strongly conservative.  This means you can be a strong republican and not strongly conservative.  There are lots of individuals who are both Republican and conservative who support the reform, contrary to what the Party is actually doing.

This mismatch between what some party officials are doing and what the rank-and-file wants raises intriguing questions about the issue of representation, deliberation, and voter sophistication—all issues that I will explore in another post soon.

 

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