Was HB 410 a bipartisan battle between moderates and ideologues?

It’s extremely unusual that the legislators in the center would team up to vote against the legislators at the extremes.

Something weird happened today in the Utah legislature. The Utah House of Representatives voted on Becky Edwards’s HB 410, but the voting pattern was weird. It appears that HB 410 triggered an unusual bipartisan alliance of the most liberal and most conservative legislators against an alliance of moderates.

Normally, we would expect liberals to vote one way and conservatives to vote the other way. I’ve written before about the ideology scores that I’ve calculated for each legislator on a score of 0 (extremely liberal) to 100 (extremely conservative). When the House voted on HB 70, Rep. Sandstrom’s illegal immigration enforcement bill, it was a clean ideological vote. Most of those voting “no” had an ideology score below 40 or so, while most voting “yes” had a score above 50 or so. That’s the normal pattern–the pattern we did not see on HB 410 today.

You can see that normal pattern clearly in the chart below, which looks at Sandstrom’s HB 70. The red curve shows the average ideology of those who voted for HB 70. You can see that the red curve ranges from just below 40 to just below 90, indicating the range of legislators who voted for this, and the curve is highest around 80, indicating that most legislators who voted for HB 70 had an ideology in this range.

HB 70 by ideology

HB 70 by ideology

Now, that’s a typical voting pattern. There’s little overlap in the two curves, and one curve is clearly to the left of the other.

Compare that to the voting pattern that we saw today when the Utah House voted on Rep. Edwards’s HB 410 (see chart below). Most of those who opposed the bill (blue line) were either very liberal or very conservative; note that the blue curve has two humps, indicating that there were two distinct groups who opposed this bill, one on each extreme. By contrast, most of those who supported this bill were clustered between 60 and 70. The overall average ideology score in the Utah House is between 65 (the median) and 68 (the mean), suggesting that the supporters were mostly moderates.

HB 410 by ideology

HB 410 by ideology

That’s a weird graph. It’s extremely unusual that the legislators in the center would team up to vote against the legislators at the extremes. The pattern wasn’t perfect, of course. There were moderates who voted “no,” and there were not-so-moderates who voted “yes.” But the overall picture that emerges is one of center versus extremes. And that’s not the typical pattern is legislative politics.

Currently, when you register to vote, your name, address, party affiliation, and birthdate all become a public part of the voter file. Anybody can get a copy of the file. HB 410 would have made your birth day and month private, leaving only the year as a public part of the file. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party both opposed this bill, fearing that it would undermine their campaign efforts if they had less information in the voter file. The bill failed, 30 “yes” to 42 “no” votes.

I’m not sure what produced the weird pattern on this graph. It appears the more ideological voters are more willing to be swayed by the state party organizations, but there could be something else at play.

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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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3 Responses to Was HB 410 a bipartisan battle between moderates and ideologues?

  1. Adam Dynes says:

    I think many strong conservatives and strong liberals have a libertarian view on issues of personal privacy, so it makes ideological sense that they would vote for the bill. But I’ve been out of the loop on Utah politics for a couple of years now, so I can’t claim to know the specifics of this vote.

    • Adam Brown says:

      This one went the other way. Those in the center took the pro-privacy stance (to keep birthdates out of the public record). Those on the tails voted the other way, apparently because that’s what the state party organizations wanted.

  2. Adam Dynes says:

    Thanks for the correction. I’m now equally confused about the results.

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