Update: The 2015 Legislature will be Utah’s 2nd most Republican since the Depression

The 2015 Legislature has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, since the 96.8% majority of 1927.

Two weeks ago, preliminary results showed Democrats picking up one seat in the Utah House and holding steady in the Utah Senate. At the time, I wrote that this change would give us the 3rd most Republican Legislature since the Depression.

Now that provisional and absentee ballots have been counted, though, three seats in the Utah House that appeared initially to have been won by Democrats were actually won by Republicans. That means Republicans are up a net of two sets in the House and steady in the Senate. And that means we now have the 2nd most Republican Legislature since the Depression.

The chart below shows the trend since statehood. Utah’s Legislature experienced a genuinely competitive period from the 1940s through 1970s. Republicans have dominated the Legislature since that time. Though Democrats made some inroads in the 1990s, Republicans have gained seats for three straight elections–2008, 2010, and 2012.

Republican control of the Legislature, 1897-2015

Republican control of the Legislature, 1897-2015

The end result: In 2015, the Utah House will be 84% Republican and the Utah Senate will be 83% Republican. Overall, 83.7% of legislators are Republican. Let’s put that in perspective a few ways.

Putting the 2015 Utah House into perspective

  • The 2015 Utah House has a larger Republican majority (63 Representatives) than at any time since 1973, when the House was increased to its current size (75 seats).
  • In percentage terms, the 2015 Utah House has the largest Republican majority in 48 years, larger than any session since the 59-10 majority (85.5% of seats) in 1967.
  • The 2015 Utah House has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, larger than any session since the 49-6 (89%) majority of 1927.
  • The 2015 Utah House has the sixth largest Republican majority since statehood, following 1921 (98%), 1909 (96%), 1905 (91%), 1927 (89%), and 1967 (86%).

Putting the 2015 Utah Senate into perspective

Neither party gained seats in this year’s Senate elections. Like last year, Republicans hold a 24-5 (83%) Senate majority. But let’s put that into historical perspective:

  • The 2015 Utah Senate ties with the 2013 and 1985 Utah Senates for the largest Republican majority (83%) since 1973, when the Senate reached its current size (29 seats).
  • The 2015, 2013, and 1985 Utah Senates are also in a three-way tie for the largest Republican majority since the 95% Republican majority seen consecutively in the 1923, 1925, and 1927 Utah Senates.

Putting the combined 2015 Utah Legislature into perspective

Overall, 87 of 104 (83.7%) Utah legislators are Republican. Perspective:

  • The 2015 Legislature has the largest Republican majority (83.7%) since 1973, when both chambers reached their current sizes.
  • The 2015 Legislature has the largest Republican majority in 48 years, since the 84.5% majority of 1967.
  • The 2015 Legislature has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, since the 96.8% majority of 1927.

What will happen next time?

Democrats may have hit rock bottom. For the most part, they have been reduced only to districts that are near-unwinnable for Republicans. The most obvious exception is Price’s House District 69, which flipped from Republican to Democratic in this year’s lone bright spot for Democrats, but which could easily flip back in 2016. Apart from that one seat, there probably aren’t many more opportunities for Republicans to pick up more seats in 2016.

Most of the competitive districts around the periphery of Salt Lake’s Democratic core have been taken by Republicans in the past couple elections. Since competitive districts are now mostly held by Republicans, Democrats have the opportunity in 2016 to regain some ground–but only if they field capable candidates and get their party organization firing on all cylinders.

But before Democrats fantasize too much about regaining seats in 2016, they should remember how much worse it has been for them in the past. Since statehood, 1 in 6 elections has produced an even stronger Republican majority than we’ll see in 2015.1 And Republicans have controlled 100% of Utah Senate seats more than once. Complacency will get Democrats nowhere in 2016.

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.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voter turnout in Utah just got worse

In 2014, Utah was one of only 4 states with turnout below 29%.

Nationally, last week’s elections witnessed the lowest midterm election turnout in seven decades. As bad as things were nationwide, though, they were even worse in Utah.

Though Utah’s turnout numbers may rise modestly as the last few absentee ballots are counted, it appears that Utah just experienced one of its worst showings in decades for an even-year election. More and more, it seems that Utahns are giving up on voting.

So far, 494,289 ballots were cast in Utah’s only statewide race, the attorney general election. Adding up all the ballots cast in Utah’s four Congressional races produces a similar figure (496,308 ballots). If we suppose that the remaining absentee ballots will bring the total figure up to 550,000, that would give Utah a 28.8% turnout rate for 2014.

How I calculate turnout

Let’s be clear about the math. Utah’s election administrators generally report turnout as a percentage of “active” registered voters. Because Utah’s voter roll lists 1,252,669 “active” registered voters, their method would report 550,000 ballots as 44% turnout. Not bad, right? A 44% rate certainly sounds better than 29%. For election administrators interested in reaching already-registered voters, this method of calculating turnout may make sense. But if we want to use turnout as an indicator of democratic health, we need another measure.

So how am I arriving at a 29% turnout figure? Political scientists calculate turnout as the percentage of eligible voters in a state. We routinely abbreviate “voter-eligible population” as VEP. In most states, “eligible” means you are at least 18, a citizen, and not currently incarcerated. The gold-standard 50-state data series on VEP turnout is maintained by Michael P. McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida. I use his data throughout this post, including his estimates of 2014 turnout rates, which may change modestly in coming weeks as outstanding absentee ballots are counted nationwide.

Just how bad was Utah’s turnout in 2014?

Take a look at the figure below. For each even-numbered election year, the large red dot shows Utah’s VEP turnout rate. The small blue dots show turnout in the other states. In every state, the turnout rate goes up in presidential years and down in midterm years; this isn’t surprising. What is remarkable, though, is Utah’s decline relative to other states. During the 1980s, Utah routinely had above-average turnout. Since the late 1990s, Utah has routinely had below-average turnout. In 2014, Utah was one of only 4 states with turnout below 29%. (The others were Indiana, New York, and Texas.)

Turnout, 1980-2014 - Utah (red) vs other states (blue)

Turnout, 1980-2014 – Utah (red) vs other states (blue)

This next figure makes Utah’s decline even more apparent. For each even-numbered year, this chart depicts the difference between Utah’s turnout rate and the nation’s average turnout rate. From 1980 through 1992, the difference was positive, meaning that Utah’s turnout rate was higher than the national average. In 1994, Utah sat a mere 0.4 percentage points above the national average. Since 1996, Utah’s turnout rate has consistently been below the national average.

Turnout 1980-2014 - Utah vs the national average

Turnout 1980-2014 – Utah vs the national average

Utah’s turnout improved somewhat in 2012, with Utah only 2.8 percentage points behind the national average. Perhaps Romney’s local popularity boosted turnout. But Utahns made up for their improved showing in 2012 by staying home in 2014. In 2014, Utah’s turnout rate was around 7.5 percentage points below the nation’s average. Though this figure will shift somewhat when final vote counts come out, it is unlikely to move by more than a trivial amount.

Why is Utah’s turnout falling?

Past posts have considered three possible explanations for Utah’s declining voter turnout, two of which seem to be supported by the evidence.

First, Utah witnessed genuine partisan competitiveness from the 1930s through the 1970s. During this time, elections routinely swung control of the Utah Legislature or of the governor’s mansion. And during this time, voter turnout was high. The Republican lock on Utah dates to the early 1980s and has strengthened in recent years. If voters feel that elections are foregone, they may feel less motivated to register and to vote. Such an attitude is unfortunate; even if the partisan races are foregone (which is not always true), there are ballot initiatives and non-partisan races to consider. See this post from 2012 for more analysis of whether uncompetitive elections hurt Utah’s turnout.

Second, Utah had no marquee race at the top of the ballot this year. Over the past half-century, many states have migrated toward holding their gubernatorial elections in midterm years to get them out of the shadow of presidential politics. Last week, 36 states had gubernatorial races.1 In addition, 34 states had US Senate races. Utah was one of only five states with neither marquee race on the ballot this year. (The others were Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington.) One way for Utah to boost midterm-year turnout would be to move gubernatorial elections to midterm years. See this post from 2010 for details. In a nutshell, we could expect this reform to provide a permanent 6.7% boost to midterm-year turnout.

Third, some have suggested that Utah’s turnout is low because it has so many young people, and young people are less likely to turn out. Though it’s true that Utah has a younger than average population, see this post from 2010 to see why we can’t blame young people for Utah’s declining turnout.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Senator Lee Rebounds

Compared to one year ago, our October 2014 UVP shows a substantial change in voters’ views about the senator. Overall, favorability toward Senator Lee has now nearly returned to its pre-shutdown levels.

These are heady days for Senate Republicans.  With a wave of electoral victories across the country, they have taken control from the Democrats, meaning that Republicans like Orrin Hatch will be assuming important and powerful positions, such as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  When it comes to governing choices, the relationship between more establishment Republicans like Senator Hatch or Mitch McConnell, on the one hand, and reform conservatives like Ted Cruz or Utah’s own Mike Lee, on the other, will also bear close observation. And, of course, it remains to be seen how the public responds to Republican rule of both houses of Congress. As we prepare for Republican takeover of the Senate, how do Utahns view the state’s junior senator?

Last year, we reported a significant decline in Senator Mike Lee’s favorability ratings after the controversial and divisive government shutdown.  Prior to the shutdown, views about Senator Lee were, on balance, positive, though not overwhelmingly so.  About 50% of Utah voters viewed Senator Lee favorably, and a little over 40% viewed him unfavorably (the remaining 10% said they had no opinion one way or the other).  After the shutdown, those numbers reversed, and Senator Lee’s unfavorables outpaced his favorables, 52% to 40% — a remarkably low evaluation for a Utah politician.  (Of the state’s political figures we asked our respondents to evaluate over the past 4 years, only John Swallow’s numbers have been worse.)

In September, analysts at Utah Policy observed a rebound in Senator Lee’s approval ratings, arguing that his renewed support among Utah voters was driven primarily by Republicans rallying behind him.  CSED’s Utah Voter Poll is uniquely positioned to dig deeper into this question and to show how things have changed over the last year, as we asked the exact same question about favorability toward Lee multiple times.  Moreover, we asked the same question to the same survey population — our sample of Utah voters who had taken part in a previous election in the state.  Because both question wording and the survey population could affect the results, holding both of these features constant allows for the best test of how attitudes toward Senator Lee have changed since 2013.

And what do our results reveal?  Potentially good news for Senator Lee.  Compared to one year ago, our October 2014 UVP shows a substantial change in voters’ views about the senator. Overall, favorability toward Senator Lee has now nearly returned to its pre-shutdown levels. Figure 1 presents the percentage of voters falling into each favorability category in June 2013 (prior to the shutdown), October 2013 (just after the shutdown began), and finally in October 2014.  It is easy to see the dramatic spike in the percentage of voters who expressed “very unfavorable” views of Senator Lee in October 2013 — the change from 27% in June to 40% in October represents a 13 percentage-point increase in highly negative opinions.  But the October 2014 results show that those negative sentiments have now died down considerably, with 31% of voters reporting “very unfavorable” views.

Lee Favorability_All

Figure 1: Favorability toward Senator Lee

These results represent an improvement for Senator Lee, though it is also true that our October 2014 panelists had comparatively less negative responses to most other politicians we asked about.  For example, only 9% of respondents had “very unfavorable” views of Governor Herbert and only 10% of respondents had a similar reaction to Jim Matheson.  The closest numbers to Senator Lee’s are judgments about Senator Hatch, whom a little more than 26% of respondents judged very unfavorably.

The trends since 2013 for Senator Lee can be seen more clearly in Table 1, where we collapse the “very unfavorable” and “somewhat unfavorable” results together and do the same for “very” or “somewhat” favorable reactions.  (The remaining percentage said they had no opinion.)  As the table shows, the dramatic reversal in public opinion from June to October persisted through at least March of this year.  In October, however, the numbers reverted to nearly their pre-shutdown levels — certainly not anywhere close to the high levels of favorability of the state’s most popular politicians, but at least more favorable than unfavorable.

Table 1: Favorability Over Time
Very or Somewhat
Unfavorable
Very or Somewhat
Favorable
June 2013 40% 50%
October 2013 52% 40%
November 2013 56% 40%
January 2014 53% 41%
March 2014 51% 43%
October 2014 44% 50%

Figure 2 presents this same information in a slightly different form.  The bars in the figure indicate the difference in public opinion from the June 2013 baseline (40% unfavorable and 50% favorable).  Beginning in October, unfavorable reactions spiked dramatically upward, while favorable opinion moved solidly in the opposite direction — not a trend any politician would prefer. Negativity toward Senator Lee reached its apex in November of 2013, when unfavorable reactions were 16 percentage points higher than the June numbers.  What’s more, less than favorable opinion persisted well into 2014, when our March UVP still found Lee upside down in favorability, with unfavorables 11 points higher than in June of 2013 and favorables 7 points lower.  By October, though, favorables had recovered all of their post-shutdown losses.

Change in Lee Favorability over Time

Figure 2: Change from June 2013 Baseline

What accounts for Senator Lee’s recovery in Utah public opinion?  Similar to the Utah Policy findings, our analysis points to significant gains among his co-partisans.  Figure 3 shows the change in favorability toward Senator Lee between October 2013 and October 2014 by levels of partisan identification (voters’ self-reported sense of attachment to the political parties).  In other words, we’re looking at how opinion has changed among different types of voters in the one year since the government shutdown.  As the figure makes clear, opinion among Democrats has not changed at all — they were highly negative in October of 2013, and they remain so today.  Any gains in favorability, then, can be entirely traced to independents and Republicans.  More favorable opinion is especially pronounced among so-called “weak Republicans” — those who consider themselves Republicans but do not identify as the strongest partisans.  As can be seen in the figure, favorable views of Lee among this group have increased by almost 25 percentage points since October 2013. A year ago, only 46% of weak Republicans had a favorable opinion of Lee (against 40% who had an unfavorable opinion).  In October of 2014, fully 70% of weak Republicans felt favorably toward him (and only 22% felt unfavorably).  Independents, independents who lean in a Republican direction, and strong Republicans also expressed increased favorability.

Figure 3: Change in Lee Favorability from October 2013 by Party ID

Figure 3: Change in Lee Favorability from October 2013 by Party ID

Together, these increases have had a substantial effect on Senator Lee’s overall numbers in the state, where most voters are, of course, Republican.  While we do see some improvement among independents, Senator Lee’s rebound can primarily be traced to his fellow Republicans.  Many of his co-partisans were unwilling to express positive views about him in the aftermath of the government shutdown, but have now returned to their previously positive assessments.

These patterns have another important implication: they mean that views of Senator Lee are highly polarized by partisanship.  Figure 4 shows the proportion of Utah voters in October 2014 who have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Senator Lee, again broken down by their self-reported party identification.  As can be seen in the figure, extraordinarily high percentages of Democrats have unfavorable views of Senator Lee, and almost no Democrats — whether strong partisans, weak partisans, or independents who lean toward the Democrats — have positive views of him.

Figure 4: Proportion of Voters Expressing Favorable (or Unfavorable) Views of Senator Lee

Figure 4: Proportion of Voters Expressing Favorable (or Unfavorable) Views of Senator Lee

In many ways, this should not be surprising. Decades of political science research have shown, over and over again, the ways in which party allegiances serve as a perceptual screen through which voters evaluate the candidates.  In the eyes of voters, not all candidates are evaluated equally: voters tend to be much harder on candidates who do not share their partisan attachments and much more forgiving of those who do.  Given this research, we should expect Democrats to have substantially less positive reactions to a conservative Republican candidate.  (The same is true for how Republicans typically respond to Democratic candidates.)  Even among independents, though, Senator Lee’s unfavorables outpace his favorables by 20 percentage points, 54% to 34%.  If, as is likely, these patterns hold up, Senator Lee can expect exceptionally low levels of support from the state’s Democrats and only tepid support from independents when he runs for re-election in 2016.

The good news for Senator Lee is that his core supporters — his fellow Republicans — have returned to the fold and are now much more positive than negative about him. Again, partisanship serves as a screen or lens through which voters evaluate different candidates, so it is not surprising that Republicans are more inclined to see the positive in Lee. Their negative reactions to him after the shutdown were the exception, not the rule (and even then, they were never as negative as independents and Democrats).  In October of this year, about twice as many Republicans reported a favorable view than an unfavorable view of Lee.  Combining strong, weak, and “leaning” Republicans, Senator Lee enjoys a 64/32 favorable to unfavorable rating — not quite the 71/22 ratio he had in June 2013, but perhaps well on his way back to those numbers.

If he is to be re-elected, such support among his base will be key.  Even with the rebound in opinion toward him, his favorables among Republicans generally still lag about 10 points behind those of more popular Republicans like Governor Herbert. (Republicans may be more favorable to Lee than Democrats, but this does not mean that Republicans evaluate all Republican candidates equally.)  Overall, Lee’s favorables are now about on par with Senator Hatch’s, with one important exception: the strongest Republicans are much more likely to be “very favorable” toward Senator Lee (48%) than Senator Hatch (30%).  In other words, Lee’s most intense support is highly concentrated among those with the strongest allegiances to the Republican party.  In addition, though not surprisingly, respondents to our survey who consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party are even more likely to say they have “very favorable” opinions toward him (73%).

The support from Tea Partiers and strong Republicans is crucial for Senator Lee if he wants to fend off potential Republican challengers in a Republican primary or convention in 2016.  Last year, we wrote that Lee was vulnerable to challenge.  He appears less so now, though it remains to be seen whether the currently positive views of his fellow partisans would hold up under criticism from a fellow Republican and whether a potential challenger could make use of the state’s new rules about primary contests to avoid a convention, where the strongest partisans — the core of Lee’s support — are highly represented.  On that score, the dramatic improvement in the opinions of “weak” Republicans may be an especially important development for Lee, though a primary still looms as a relatively more risky setting for him than a convention vote.

Turning from Republicans to the full electorate, Senator Lee clearly has work to do to convince more independents to join his cause, and anything more than minscule levels of Democratic support is likely  a lost cause.  Even in a heavily Republican state like Utah, that opens the door for a quality challenger like Jim Matheson, who has made his career crafting winning coalitions of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans.  In fact, on election night, the Utah Colleges Exit Poll asked a random statewide sample of voters their preferences in a hypothetical 2016 Senate race between Jim Matheson and Mike Lee.  These results should be taken with a grain of salt — they are merely hypothetical — but they show an extremely tight contest: 44.5% of respondents said they preferred Lee, 41.5% said they preferred Matheson, and 14% were undecided.  Such a close result is notable, given that the midterm electorate is likely to have a relatively high percentage of strong Republicans, the bulwark of Lee’s support.  Things may be even closer with a presidential electorate that is likely to be much larger, more diverse, and relatively more moderate.  Of course, the 2014 contests are barely in the rearview mirror and Jim Matheson has not declared his intention to run in 2016, but a competitive statewide Senate race may already have political junkies salivating.  In the meantime, Senator Lee’s rebounding favorability in the court of public opinion will, no doubt, be something for challengers both inside and outside his party to consider.

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.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Press On: What are Voter Perceptions of The Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune?

When asked to say which paper “reports fairly on the LDS Church,” 12% said The Salt Lake Tribune, 44% said The Deseret News. Only 14% said neither paper reported fairly.

James Madison eloquently argued for a free press in a constitutional republic. The press, he reasoned, helped to hold elected officials accountable by publishing the information citizens would need to make decisions about the power wielded by their elected officials.

The State of Utah finds itself in the enviable position of having two daily statewide newspapers to provide such information. Citizens can go to either one to learn about civic affairs. Each has its own distinct history and editorial stance. Overtime it appears that the histories and stances have created different loyalties among the state’s voters.

As reported in both The Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune, 81% of respondents to the October 2014 Utah Voter Poll “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that Utah needs two daily newspapers.

However, the overall agreement masks important subgroup differences in the ways in which individuals read the two papers and view their coverage. Thirty-eight percent of those who say they are not LDS say they read The Salt Lake Tribune regularly. Only 7% of those who are LDS say they read the paper regularly. The proportion almost flips for reading The Deseret News. Interestingly, and certainly in line with national trends, a large proportion of both LDS and non-LDS say they do not read either paper regularly.

I read this paper regularly by Religion

When asked to say which paper “reports fairly on the LDS Church,” 12% said The Salt Lake Tribune, 44% said The Deseret News. Only 14% said neither paper reported fairly.

Percent who say reports fairly about the LDS Church

But as might be expected, these proportions change when controlling for whether or not one actually reads a newspaper. When we restrict the analysis to those who say they read one or both of the papers regularly, perceptions of fairness change. Forty-three percent of those who read a paper regularly indicate that The Deseret News reports fairly about the LDS Church. Only 15% of those who read a paper regularly say The Salt Lake Tribune does, and 34% say both papers report fairly about the LDS Church.

Reports fairly about the LDS Church by Readers

When we ask respondents (analysis limited only to those who read a paper regularly) to state which paper “performs the press’ role as a watchdog,” 36% say The Salt Lake Tribune and 6% say The Deseret News. What seems to emerge in the data is that readers value different things about the two papers.  In the case of the Tribune, respondents to the poll who regularly consume the news appear to value the Tribune more than the News as fulfilling that traditional function of a free press.

Performs the press' role as watchdog new

The differences become even more evident when controlling for both regular readership and religion. Those individuals who read a paper regularly and are LDS are much more likely to say The Deseret News “reports fairly” than those who read a paper regularly and are not LDS. The same difference exists when assessing the fairness of The Salt Lake Tribune. Only 4% of individuals who read a paper regularly and are LDS believe The Salt Lake Tribune reports fairly while 38% of those who read a paper regularly and are not LDS conclude that The Tribune reports fairly.

Reports fairly about the LDS Church by religion

Such differences raise interesting questions about what “fairness” means. Some individuals probably think “fairness” involves being tough on an institution while others certainly think “fairness” involves understanding and respecting that institution’s mission. What particular form of “fairness” individuals use to evaluate the reporting of the two major newspapers will have to wait for another poll.

The analysis reported above isolates only two important variables. A better method controls for many more factors in order to infer that the differences between the categories persist. Where the respondents have a choice between different categories but those categories are not ranked in any meaningful way, an appropriate method is multinomial logistic regression. This method permits a researcher to test what independent variables predict the probabilities that a person will choose a specific category of a dependent variable that is not ordered.

The model controls for religion, party identification, gender, age, religiosity, income, and education. The dependent variable is selecting The Salt Lake Tribune, The Deseret News, or Both when responding to the statement, “Reports fairly about the LDS Church.” Then it is possible to convert the results into probabilities for specific categories of the independent variables. Once again, only those respondents who “read a paper regularly” are included in the analysis.

As the figure below shows, a person’s probability of saying The Salt Lake Tribune “reports fairly on the LDS Church” drops 13 percentage points—holding all of the other variables constant—when the category changes from not LDS to LDS.

Change in Probability The Salt Lake Tribune

The change in the probability of selecting The Deseret News is even larger when comparing LDS to non-LDS respondents.

Change in Probability The Deseret News

The other two figures essentially show that there is not much difference between LDS and non-LDS respondents in their probabilities of selecting the categories of “both” or “neither.”

Change in Probability Both

Change in Probability for Neither

What all of the data in this blog post seems to indicate is that religion matters for the ways in which respondents view the different newspapers and their roles. If Madison was correct, then the press matters.  However it certainly behooves those who publish newspapers to always bear in mind that the decisions they make do indeed shape public opinion about their newspapers.

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.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We now have the fewest freshmen ever in the Utah House

Every incumbent on yesterday’s ballot won.

This post is based on preliminary election results. Provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted.

When it convenes in January, Utah’s House of Representatives will have fewer freshmen on the floor than it has ever had since statehood. Ever. Yesterday’s elections set a record for low turnover in the Utah House. There will be 14 new faces (out of 75 seats), but only 12 can be considered freshmen. (The 13th and 14th, Brad King and Brad Daw, have served in the House previously.)

Because the size of the House grew gradually from statehood until the 1970s, we have to make these comparisons in percentage terms. The 12 freshmen represent 16% of the chamber. Only three other elections since statehood have produced fewer than 20% of seats held by freshmen. All three are in the recent past. The 2009 session had 17% freshmen, and the 1999 and 2007 sessions tied with 19% freshmen.

None of this is new, of course. Turnover has been declining in the Legislature for decades, a topic I have written about previously (in Nov 2012, May 2012, and March 2011). The following figure shows the trend in the House graphically. I plot a point for each odd-numbered year depicting the percent freshmen in the House following each even-numbered election. The first Legislature after statehood convened for a one-year term in 1896 following special 1895 elections. This figure begins in 1897, following the November 1896 elections–the first election after statehood when incumbent could have appeared on the ballot.

Turnover in the Utah House of Representatives, 1897-2015

Turnover in the Utah House of Representatives, 1897-2015

Turnover rates declined steadily from statehood until the 1980s. The decline has stabilized since the 1980s, perhaps because we are approaching a natural minimum. We are now in an era when low turnover is the norm.

Can incumbents lose anymore?

In total, yesterday’s elections produced turnover in 14 House districts (out of 75) and 2 Senate districts (out of 29, though only half were on the ballot). Yet none of these 16 changes came because of an incumbent’s general election loss. Every incumbent on yesterday’s ballot won.

Some incumbents had a scare, of course. Rep. Larry Wiley defeated his Republican challenger by only 33 votes, eking out a 50.5%-49.5% win. But like every other incumbent on yesterday’s ballot, he won. (This result could change as provisional and absentee ballots are counted over the next few days.)

This year’s only incumbent losses came last spring. Jim Bird, Jerry Anderson, and Dana Layton lost their seats to intraparty challengers. Richard Greenwood bowed out ahead of the convention in the face of looming defeat. That means only 4 of this year’s 16 changes came because of an incumbent’s nomination defeat. The other 12 came only because incumbents chose not to seek reelection.

With the Legislature’s high workload and low pay, it’s common to see so many retirements. But this year’s record-setting lack of House freshmen demonstrates just how much legislative turnover is driven by incumbents’ decisions to retire rather than by election results.

Is this bad?

Assessing low turnover is tricky business. On the one hand, elections should be competitive enough that enduring shifts in public opinion can successfully produce new legislators in office. On the other hand, excessive turnover can produce an inexperienced legislative body prone to hyperpartisanship and legislative errors.1 It’s not immediately clear what the best balance is between turnover and experience.

As a comparison point, Utah’s turnover has not declined to levels seen in the US House of Representatives. Yesterday’s elections produced only 13% turnover in the US House. (Only 394 of 435 US Representatives sought election, of whom 4 lost in primaries and 11 lost yesterday.) Though the Tea Party years produced marginally higher turnover–22% in 2010 and 18% in 2012–preceding years were closer to yesterday’s total (12% turnover in 2002, 10% in 2004, 14% in 2006, 13% in 2008).2

Though there is a long-term trend of decreasing turnover in the Utah House, it has not reached the level seen in the US House.

(This post was updated to correct the omission of Brad Daw.)

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Election result: The 3rd most Republican Legislature in 80 years

The 2015 Legislature will be the third-most Republican group in 80 years.

This post is based on preliminary election results. Provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted.

Update (Nov 20): Now that provisional and absentee ballots are in, three elections have seen their outcome reversed. Disregard what’s written below and see this new post instead.

Two years ago, the 2012 elections gave Republicans 3 additional seats in the Utah House and 2 additional seats in the Utah Senate, producing the second-most Republican Legislature in 80 years.

This year, Democrats would have been pleased merely to avoid further losses. They went one better in yesterday’s election, picking up a single seat in the Utah House.

This gain will surely cheer Democrats. If nothing else, regaining a seat based on Carbon and Duchesne counties allows them, once again, to claim some following outside of Salt Lake County. But they shouldn’t get too excited. The 2015 Legislature will be the third-most Republican group in 80 years.

  • The 2015 House will be 80.0% Republican, down from 81.3% two years ago. This will be the fourth most Republican House (after 85.5% in 1967 and 81.3% in 1985 and 2013) since the Depression.
  • The 2015 Senate will remain 82.8% Republican. This ties 2013 and 1983 as the most Republican Senate since the Depression.
  • In total, 80.8% of legislators will be Republican in 2015, placing 2015 in a tie for third (with 1985) after 1967 (84.5%) and 2013 (81.7%).

Historical trends

The following figure provides some context. The Legislature experienced Democratic dominance in the 1930s and 1940s and a period of alternating party control from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Republicans have controlled the House since 1977 and the Senate since 1979. Democrats made some inroads in the 1990s, but Republicans have strengthened their control over the past half decade.

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1931-2015

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1931-2015

A historical footnote

If you’re curious why my figure and comparisons go back only to 1933, that’s because Utah had a strange relationship with the national political parties for the first forty years of statehood. After the dissolution of the old People’s Party and Liberal Party, it took Utah’s voters several decades to find a consistent partisan identity.

Below, you can see how erratic the figure would look if I used the entire data series since statehood. From 1897 through 1933, both parties experienced periods of near-unanimous control of the Legislature. Taking the long view, Utah Democrats can console themselves that it could be–and has been–worse.

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1897-2015

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1897-2015

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What Utah voters want from their Legislature

The three issues voters most want the Legislature to address: Reducing corruption among elected officials, improving Utah’s air quality, and increasing spending on K-12 public education.

This post is a collaboration between Mike Barber and Adam Brown. Both are assistant professors of Political Science at Brigham Young University and affiliated scholars at the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

The Utah Legislature considered 784 bills during its 2014 General Session and passed 484 of them. If the past is any guide, we can expect a similarly massive number of bills in 2015. Though it is never easy to predict which bills will arise in any given year, we polled Utah voters about 23 issues spanning the ideological spectrum. The questions were embedded in the October 2014 wave of our recurring Utah Voter Poll, fielded regularly by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You will find details about survey methodology and question wording in the poll’s topline report.

We’ll begin by simply presenting the 23 policy options we asked about, ranked from greatest to least support. These options appeared below the following prompt: Should the Utah Legislature prioritize working on the following issues in the next year? Respondents chose “yes” or “no” for each issue.

Policy proposal Support
Reducing corruption among elected officials 88%
Improving the air quality of Utah 81%
Increasing spending on K-12 public education 74%
Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah 69%
Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians 66%
Expand access to health insurance for the poor 66%
Decreasing congestion on major roadways 65%
Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah 63%
Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative 62%
Reducing government regulations on the private sector 62%
Increasing spending on higher education 59%
Lowering taxes in Utah 59%
Transferring more federally held land into state control 58%
Preventing further development in Utah’s mountains and open spaces 56%
Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah 53%
Decreasing income inequality 52%
Reducing the number of abortions in Utah 47%
Increasing Utah’s minimum wage 47%
Developing a system of state funding for charter schools 43%
Preventing same-sex couples from marrying in Utah 42%
Expanding the list of places where people can carry concealed weapons 39%
Making it more difficult for people to purchase firearms 35%
Expanding access to unemployment benefits 33%

The most popular issue: Reducing corruption among elected officials, with support from 89% of Democrats and 87% of Republicans. This was actually the most popular proposal among Republican respondents.

Concerns about air quality come next, with 81% of respondents supporting legislative action. Again, this support transcends partisan boundaries, with support from 97% of Democrats and 74% of Republicans. Air quality seems to hit the public radar every January when the winter inversions set in; we find it remarkable that this topic received such high support during a crisp, beautiful stretch in mid-October.

Rounding out the top three is increased spending for K-12 public education, with support from 74% of respondents.

Each party’s top ten

The next table shows the top ten issues for respondents of each party. Democrats are shown on the left, Republicans on the right. Every issue in Democrats’ top ten received at least 70% support among Democrats; every issue in Republicans’ top ten received at least 69% support among Republicans.

Democrats Republicans
1 Improving the air quality of Utah Reducing corruption among elected officials
2 Expand access to health insurance for the poor Transferring more federally held land into state control
3 Decreasing income inequality Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative
4 Increasing spending on K-12 public education Reducing government regulations on the private sector
5 Reducing corruption among elected officials Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah
6 Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians Improving the air quality of Utah
7 Increasing Utah’s minimum wage Lowering taxes in Utah
8 Increasing spending on higher education Increasing spending on K-12 public education
9 Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah
10 Expanding access to unemployment benefits Decreasing congestion on major roadways

Three issues (shown in boldface) appear in both lists. They are, unsurprisingly, the three issues voters most want the Legislature to address: Reducing corruption among elected officials, improving Utah’s air quality, and increasing spending on K-12 public education. Unsurprisingly, these three areas of bipartisan agreement received the most support overall, as shown in the preceding table.

The most polarizing issues

We can also consider issues by how polarizing they are across parties. The table below shows the percentage point difference (in absolute values) between support among Republicans and support among Democrats for each proposal. A low number indicates an area where Democrats and Republicans tend to take the same view. A high number indicates an area of partisan disagreement.

Policy proposal Polarization
Reducing corruption among elected officials 2
Decreasing congestion on major roadways 4
Helping recent college graduates find employment in Utah 10
Preventing further development in Utah’s mountains and open spaces 16
Increasing spending on higher education 21
Increasing spending on K-12 public education 22
Improving the air quality of Utah 23
Developing tax incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to Utah 27
Regulating campaign contributions to Utah politicians 28
Developing a system of state funding for charter schools 37
Lowering taxes in Utah 40
Reducing the number of abortions in Utah 42
Expand access to health insurance for the poor 44
Reforming the national Common Core State Standards initiative 44
Reducing government regulations on the private sector 45
Preventing same-sex couples from marrying in Utah 46
Expanding the list of places where people can carry concealed weapons 46
Making it harder for illegal immigrants to stay in Utah 50
Increasing Utah’s minimum wage 50
Making it more difficult for people to purchase firearms 51
Expanding access to unemployment benefits 55
Decreasing income inequality 56
Transferring more federally held land into state control 68

Republicans and Democrats find common ground when it comes to reducing corruption, decreasing traffic congestion, and helping graduates transition to the workforce. (This does not imply that these are the most popular three options, only that respondents of both parties take similar views.) Partisan divisions arise in matters of income inequality (including unemployment benefits and the minimum wage), gun control, and (especially) taking control of federal lands. The lands issue creates a striking 68 percentage point rift between Republicans and Democrats, with 82% of Republicans and 14% of Democrats in favor. It is hard to imagine a more divisive issue that legislators could consider.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Doug Owens Really Ahead? How to Think about Our 4th District Results

News headlines aside, it’s important to understand that our result shows a competitive election, not a statistically meaningful advantage for either Love or Owens.

This post was written by Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.  Inquires should be directed toward the authors.

Our 4th District Utah Voter Poll results received a great deal of media attention yesterday, and that attention raised some important questions about the nature of our survey and the best way to characterize the results.  We followed the same process in the October UVP as we have for many previous surveys, and we have confidence in our methodology, which has yielded a reliable measure of public opinion in the state for many years.  We always report the results as we receive them, regardless of the candidates, parties, or issues.  Still, because candidates and parties tend to want to spin the results to fit their interests, it is important for political observers to get beyond the headlines to understand both the strengths and the limitations of this particular set of results.

As we emphasized yesterday, ours was a statewide sample of voters who were randomly selected to participate in the Utah Colleges Exit Poll and also agreed to be part of our Utah Voter Poll panel.  We do not have a separate sample for each of the state’s four congressional districts.  Among other things, this means that the number of respondents in each congressional district is smaller than the full sample and, thus, that the margin of error for the congressional district results is higher than the uncertainty associated with the full sample.  For a simple random sample, the margin for a survey similar in size to ours would be plus or minus 3.4%.  The analogous margin of error for the 4th District questions would be plus or minus about 6.4%.  Clearly, neither candidate exceeded this margin of error, which means that neither candidate had a statistically robust lead at the time the survey was in the field.

Every survey includes some level of uncertainty (and different kinds of uncertainty at that), and as we tried to emphasize yesterday, our results are best interpreted not as a “lead” for Doug Owens but as a race in which neither candidate has substantially distanced himself or herself from the other.  News headlines aside, it’s important to understand that our result shows a competitive election, not a statistically meaningful advantage for either Love or Owens.

So what is going on with our results?  We see several possibilities, a few of which we will detail below.

One simple explanation is that the race was genuinely tight during the week we were in the field.  According to press reports yesterday, the Love campaign said that they noticed similar tightening in their internal tracking polls earlier in the month, but according to their description, the gap between the candidates has widened again since the time our poll was in the field.  We only have data from October 15-22, so any changes since that time, no matter what the partisan direction, would not be captured in our results.  We simply cannot say what has occurred in the days since our survey closed.

Another possibility is that our sample leans more heavily Democratic than the electorate is likely to be on Election Day in 2014.  Of course, the final resolution of that possibility won’t be known until next week.  We noted in our post yesterday that our sample looked relatively similar to the 2012 4th District electorate.  In 2012, the Utah Colleges Exit Poll found that about 29% of voters self-identified as Democrats and 51% identified as Republicans, with the rest being independents, identified with third parties, or identifying with no party at all.  In our October 2014 UVP, about 28% of 4th District voters self-identified as Democrats and 55% identified as Republicans.

But midterm elections are not the same as presidential elections, and given the fundamentals of the election, with Democrats burdened by a relatively unpopular president in the 6th year of his term, it’s possible that the electorate will look quite different in 2014.  What difference would this make to our results?  To answer that question, let’s assume that partisans divide their votes in the way our survey showed, with Owens wining almost all of the Democratic votes, a plurality of the independent vote, and about 22.5% of Republican votes.  Assuming Owens performs that way, what happens when we simply alter the mix of Republicans and Democrats in the electorate (holding constant the proportion of independents)?  The table below presents different scenarios.

4th District Results with Varying Levels of Partisanship in the Electorate
55% R
28% D
57% R
25% D
62% R
20% D
64% R
18% D
Owens 45.8% 43% 40% 38%
Love 42.2% 44% 47% 48%

In other words, if we assume everything else about our survey is correct and simply vary the partisan mix of the electorate, a statistical tie quickly becomes a substantial victory for Love.

One additional, related possibility involves examining the data with an even finer-tooth comb.  In our survey, we asked voters to identify themselves as either strong partisans, not-so-strong partisans, or independents who nonetheless lean in a partisan direction when asked to choose.  More respondents in our sample described themselves as Republican “leaners” than strong Republicans.  But it is also possible that on Election Day, that mix will be different and more voters will describe themselves as strong Republicans than as weak or leaning Republicans.  This may be especially likely in a midterm election, when strong partisans are often over-represented relative to presidential election years.  Why would that matter?  Because in our sample Love wins 90% of the strong Republican vote, but only around 60% of the weak and leaning Republican vote.  Holding the total percentage of Republicans in the sample constant but altering the mix of leaning and strong Republicans would give Love a small lead in our survey.  In other words, if a greater percentage of Republican voters on Election Day are the strongest partisans, Love is likely to significantly outpace our survey’s estimate.

The alternative scenarios we outlined above assume that Owens wins a little over 20% of the Republican vote, as he did in our survey.  Winning a healthy percentage of Republicans is necessary for Democrats in a district that leans Republican.  Falling short of that standard would make his path to victory next to impossible.  To win, Owens must replicate the Matheson pattern of winning essentially all the Democratic, most of the independent, and more than 20% of Republican votes.  One important trend to watch will be how Owens performs among self-identified Republicans, and the Utah Colleges Exit Poll will be a helpful tool to answer that question on Election Day.

In our survey, we also found that third-party candidates did relatively well, taking about 5 percent of the vote overall.  The Libertarian candidate, Jim L. Vein, made an especially good showing, with 3.6% of voters preferring him.  Perhaps, though, voters would make different choices if they knew the race was close.  None of the third-party candidates is likely to win this time around, and in a competitive election, voters who expressed a preference for the Libertarian, Constitution, or other candidates on our survey might swing the outcome by choosing one of the two major party candidates when they get to the voting booth.

Finally, we want to emphasize again that every survey is only a snapshot in time and every survey estimate is accompanied by uncertainty.  All polls should simply be treated as indicators of the true, underlying state of the race at any given time.  No poll should be read in isolation.

Given these basic facts, our mid-October results do not show either candidate with an insurmountable advantage among voters who say they have made up their minds about how to vote.  Nonetheless, Love enters the last week of the campaign with other sorts of advantages, not the least of which is fundraising.  We expect that her fundraising resources will play a key role in the final days of campaigning.  Love will likely be able to bring advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts to the race that Owens probably cannot match.  Still, as we concluded yesterday, the final sprint to the finish is worth watching closely.

Posted in Everything | 4 Comments

The Current State of the 2014 Utah Campaigns

It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.

This post was written by Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, with assistance from  Alejandra Gimenez, a CSED undergraduate research fellow.  Inquires about the survey or its methodology should be directed toward Professors Karpowitz and Pope.

With the 2014 midterm elections just a few days away, where do the races currently stand?  From October 15-22, BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy fielded the latest Utah Voter Poll, which is a statewide sample of voters who were recruited to participate after completing the Utah Colleges Exit Poll in a previous election year.  (More details about the sample and methodology are available here.)  We asked voters a number of questions about their views of Utah politicians, including their current vote choices in the upcoming electoral races.

We find that Utahns are reasonably happy with state leaders, especially Governor Herbert.  Overall, he enjoys a 76% approval rating, with only 24% disapproving.   (That approval rate jumps to 93% among self-identified Republicans and falls to 45% among Democrats.  Levels of approval among independents are about the same as the statewide average.)  The public’s views of the legislature are comparatively less enthusiastic, but still generally positive, with 58% approving and 42% disapproving.

With respect to the upcoming midterms, we presented voters with the choices they will face at the ballot on election day.  Given that ours is a sample of voters who have been to the polls in previous years, nearly all our respondents (99%) said they were somewhat likely (8%) or very likely (91%) to vote this year.

In 2014, Utahns will vote in only one statewide race — the special election for Attorney General. In light of the scandals that have engulfed both John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, some observers wondered whether Utahns would be more hesitant to support the Republican candidate for attorney general or more willing to give the Democratic candidate a closer look.  But that does not seem to be the case among the voters in our sample, as Table 1 shows.  While 18% were not yet sure about their vote choice, nearly 50% expressed support for Sean Reyes, the Republican, and he has a 20-point lead over Charles Stormont — well beyond the margin of error for this survey.

Special Election for Attorney General
% Supporting
Sean Reyes, Republican 47%
Charles A. Stormont, Democrat 27%
W. Andrew McCullough, Libertarian 4%
Gregory G. Hansen, Constitution 2%
Leslie D. Curtis, American Independent 1%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 18%
Do not plan on voting in this election 1%
Total 100%
(776 respondents)

Congressional Races in Districts 1-3

In addition to the statewide race, we also asked voters about their preferences for the congressional candidates in their districts.  Because the number of respondents within each district is smaller than for the state as a whole, the margin of error for each of these congressional district results is higher than the normal 3.4% margin of error for a simple random sample (see the topline report for more detail about the survey’s margin of error).  In addition, readers should keep in mind that our survey is designed to be a statewide sample of voters, not a separate sample of each congressional district.  Thus, the results should be treated as more of an indicator of what is happening in the congressional races, rather than as a definitive prediction of the final outcome.

In Congressional Districts 1 through 3, we see considerable advantages for the Republican candidates.  Rob Bishop leads Donna McAleer by nearly 20 points, and Jason Chaffetz is ahead of the seldom-campaigning Brian Wonnacott by almost 35 points.  In the second district, the race is somewhat closer (a little less than 7 percentage points), but our sample of voters in that district leans somewhat more Democratic than the other congressional districts and somewhat more Democratic than the 2012 electorate.  In 2012, Chris Stewart defeated the Democrat Jay Seegmiller by nearly 30 points, so a 7-point race is tighter than past experience would indicate.  In all three congressional districts, between 14-15% of respondents to our poll said that they had not yet made a firm vote choice, but in the 1st and 3rd districts, even if all of those voters were to choose the Democratic candidate (an unlikely occurrence), it would not be enough to close the gap.

Congressional District 1
% Supporting
Rob Bishop, Republican 49.1%
Donna M. McAleer, Democrat 30.8%
Craig Bowden, Libertarian 3.2%
Dwayne A. Vance, American Independent 2.0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.9%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(159 respondents)
Congressional District 2
% Supporting 
 Chris Stewart, Republican  43.3%
 Luz Robles, Democrat  36.7%
 Wayne L. Hill, Independent American  0%
 Shaun McCausland, Constitution 2.8%
 Bill Barron, Independent  1.4%
 Don’t Know/Someone Else  15.8%
 Do not plan on voting in this election  0%
 Total  100%
(192 respondents)
Congressional District 3
% Supporting
Jason Chaffetz, Republican 59.0%
Brian Wonnacott, Democrat 24.9%
Zach Strong, Independent American 0.9%
Ben J. Mates, Independent 0.6%
Stephen P. Tryon, Independent 0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.1%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0.5%
Total 100%
(169 respondents)

The Competitive 4th District

In our sample, the closest race is in the 4th Congrssional District.  The state of this race has been the subject of considerable speculation, with dueling campaign polls portraying very different electoral landscapes.  The most recent independent poll showed Mia Love ahead by 9 percentage points.

Our results show a 4th district race that appears to have tightened considerably in October.  Among our 236 4th district respondents, Doug Owens has 45.8% to Mia Love’s 42.2% — a result that is statistically indistinguishable from a tie.  In contrast to the results in the other congressional districts, only 6.6% of voters in CD4 claimed they had not yet made up their minds at the time the survey was in the field.

Congressional District 4
% Supporting
Mia B. Love, Republican 42.2%
Doug Owens, Democrat 45.8%
Jim L. Vein, Libertarian 3.6%
Tim Aalders, Independent American 0.5%
Collin Robert Simonsen, Constitution 1.3%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 6.6%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(236 respondents)

When we break down the results still further, it appears that Owens is taking nearly all the votes of Democrats in the 4th District (97%) and is capturing a meaningful number of Republicans (22%, compared to Mia Love’s 66% of Republicans).  The number of independents in our 4th District sample is too small for reliable conclusions, but Owens may have a lead among those voters, too.  For Owens to win, he will need to follow Jim Matheson’s pattern of overwhelming victory among Democrats and solid support from independents and Republicans.  In 2012, for example, the Utah Colleges Exit Poll showed that Matheson won 94% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 23% of Republicans in the district.  Owens’s performance in the current poll parallels that result very closely.

In addition to comparing the Utah Voter Poll results with past elections, we can examine the differences between the Love-Owens race and the Reyes-Stormont AG race among 4th District voters.  In other words, we can explore how the behavior of the same voters in the district sample varies across the two races.  The comparison is illuminating because in our sample, the Republican Sean Reyes has a substantial lead among 4th District voters, a result that closely resembles the statewide margin.  Similarly, levels of approval for the governor in the 4th District almost perfectly mirror approval levels for the state as a whole.  In other words, the result is not driven by a sample of voters who are unwilling to report support for a Republican candidate.

While the exact composition of the 2014 electorate won’t be known until the day of the election itself, our sample looks similar to the distribution of self-reported partisan identification in the 4th District in 2012.  If anything, respondents to our October Utah Voter Poll were slightly more Republican than the 2012 electorate.  Given national trends and past patterns in midterm elections, we might expect a more Republican electorate in 2014 than in 2012, but it does not appear that our result is driven by a sample of respondents that happened to skew substantially less Republican than previous elections in the district.

From our vantage point, the 4th District race is worth watching carefully.  Despite Mia Love’s considerable fundraising and name recognition advantage, this poll should be read as an indicator that the race is still competitive.  We want to emphasize again that these results have limitations, given the nature of our sampling strategy, but we do not see Love or Owens with a significant lead.  It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.  We expect that the campaign for the small number of undecided voters in the district will be intense.

Methodology

Click here to download a topline report that includes the survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates) and information about the margin of sampling error.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Utah Voters Support Medicaid Expansion

43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

 This post was written by CSED Research Fellow and BYU Political Scientist Jay Goodliffe with assistance from CSED Undergraduate Research Fellow John Griffith.  Inquiries about the analysis should be directed to Jay Goodliffe or Quin Monson.

The April 2014 Utah Voter Poll (UVP) found that a majority of Utah voters support some form of Medicaid expansion.  Choosing between plans proposed by Governor Gary Herbert, Speaker Becky Lockhart, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and no change, 43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

As the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has begun to take effect, Republican governors are deciding how to close a gap in health insurance created by a 2012 Supreme Court decision making Medicaid expansion optional to the states. While the Obama administration has been encouraging states to expand Medicaid through federal Obamacare funding, governors in conservative states have been looking for other methods of expanding coverage. In Utah, Governor Herbert has proposed taking $258 million of the annually available $524 million in federal funds and seeking a waiver allowing the state to provide subsidies to help up to 111,000 low-income Utahns buy private insurance. In contrast, Utah House Republicans, led by Speaker Lockhart, offered a plan which rejects the $524 million of federal funds and uses $35 million in state money and supplements them with $80 million of federal dollars to extend partial health care benefits to 54,000 or fewer of low-income Utahns.

Two forms of the question

In the poll, voters were presented with a short description of each plan without labeling the primary sponsor. When participants chose between the four plans, 43% preferred the Governor’s plan, 33% preferred the full Obamacare funds, 13% preferred maintaining the status quo, and 11% preferred the Speaker’s plan.  Some participants were offered a “Don’t Know” option, in addition to the four other options. When the “Don’t Know” option was available, 30% favored Obamacare, 29% favored the Governor’s plan, 17% favored maintaining the status quo, 11% favored the Speaker’s plan, and 14% chose “Don’t Know.”  When the “Don’t Know” option was available, the Governor’s plan lost the most support, which may indicate that support for his plan is not as strong. However, we surmise that if the plan were labeled “Governor Herbert’s plan,” it would receive stronger support. In the analysis that follows, we will use the poll question where participants could not answer “Don’t Know,” but the results are qualitatively similar if we include that option, except where we note below. With either form of the question, the poll results show that most voters prefer some kind of Medicaid expansion.

medicaidsupport

Partisan differences

There is a clear partisan split when it comes to support for the four options for Medicaid funding. The poll shows that 53% of Republican voters support the Governor’s plan, 77% of Democrats favor the full Obamacare funds, and Independents are split between the two, with 44% favoring the Governor’s plan and 41% favoring Obamacare.  (When “Don’t Know” is included as an option, support for the Governor’s Plan drops among Republicans and Independents.)  Participants who self-identified as being of an “Other” political party overwhelmingly chose to maintain the status quo (57% preferring this plan), likely due to support for that plan among the state’s libertarians.  However, those identifying with an “Other” political party constitute only 5% of Utah voters. The results of the poll show that there is little support for the Speaker’s plan, even among Republican voters.

medicaidparty

Ideological differences

Looking at support for each plan based on political ideology shows that the greatest support for Speaker Lockhart’s plan comes from those who consider themselves to be strongly conservative, with 25% of this group preferring her plan. Yet even among strongly conservative voters, 36% prefer the Governor’s and 33% prefer no change.  In general, liberal voters prefer Obamacare, and moderate and conservative voters prefer the Governor’s plan. (Some of the moderate and conservative support for the Governor’s plan shifts to “Don’t Know” when “Don’t Know” is available as an option.)

medicaidideology

Political observers have noted that Speaker Lockhart may challenge Governor Herbert for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2016. The Medicaid issue could be a significant one in that election. While caucus and primary voters are not necessarily representative of general election voters, this poll shows far more support for the Governorís plan than the Speakerís plan. In general, most Utah voters prefer some form of Medicaid expansion, regardless of party or ideology.

Methodology

Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates) and information about the margin of sampling error.

About Quin Monson: Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

Posted in Everything | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments