The publicity about the Compact, including the Compact’s moderate stance, likely helped move active Mormons and strong Republicans toward more opposition to an Arizona-style law.
Can public opinion on controversial issues moderate or change in response to public debates? Political science has long studied1 the effects of endorsements and other elements of campaigns on public opinion and policy outcomes.
In mid November last year a number of individuals and organizations issued the Utah Compact, a statement addressing immigration reform. Although not a signatory of the compact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also issued its own statement of support for the Compact.
Did the Utah Compact actually sway Utah public opinion? And, if so, who was more likely to change their views?
Two Utah Voter Polls (UVP) help provide some insight to these questions. The UVP is a periodic survey of Utah voters who were randomly sampled for participation in an Internet survey panel through an invitation during the Utah Colleges Exit Poll.
In both October 2010 and January 2011, survey respondents were asked the following question:
“As you may know, the state of Arizona recently passed a law that gives the police the power to question someone they have already stopped or arrested about their legal status in the country. Under the law, the police may turn over confirmed illegal aliens to federal custody. Currently, similar legislation is being sponsored in Utah. To what extent do you oppose or favor such a law?”
Opinion modestly shifted from October to January with those who “Strongly Favor” tough enforcement decreasing nearly 9 percentage points while those who “Strongly Oppose” an Arizona-style law increasing by nearly 7 percentage points and those who “Somewhat Oppose” increasing by about 4 percentage points.
Who changed their mind?
The real strength of the survey is that about 170 of the same respondents participated in both surveys. By looking only at these 170 respondents, we can get a feel for what types of people were more likely to change their minds between October and January.
Of these 170 people, most (61%) gave the same answer in both October and January. Of those who changed their minds, most (27%) moved toward opposing an Arizona-style immigration bill. Only half as many (12%) moved toward supporting an Arizona-style immigration bill.
Before going further, it is important to emphasize that this analysis examines attitude change. It does not predict who will favor or oppose an Arizona-style law. However, it does predict who is most likely to adjust their position on the issue.
Using advanced statistical techniques, we found that self-identified “very active Mormons” and Republicans were most likely to change their minds during this period. As you can see from the previous figure, our question used a 5-point scale ranging from “strongly oppose” to “strongly favor.” Other things being equal, we found that a “very active Mormon” was likely to move 0.50 points (on average) further toward opposing an Arizona-style bill than a “less than very active Mormon.” Likewise, we found that a self-identified “strong Republican” was likely to move 0.55 points further toward opposing an Arizona-style bill than an “independent leaning Republican.”
Putting it together, then, we found that respondents who considered themselves both “very active Mormon” and “strong Republican” were likely to move 1.05 points further toward opposing an Arizona-style bill than respondents who considered themselves “less than very active Mormons” who were “independent leaning Republicans.”
Note that we are comparing self-identified very active Mormons to those who are less than very active Mormons, and we are comparing strong Republicans to independents who lean Republicans. We found virtually no movement among Democrats and non-Mormons.
Statistical geeks can read further details of our analysis here: Analysis: Immigration opinions and the Utah Compact (pdf).
Did the Utah Compact matter?
The most important immigration-related event between October and January was the Utah Compact and the LDS Church’s statement of support. The publicity about the Compact, including the Compact’s moderate stance, likely helped move active Mormons and strong Republicans toward more opposition to an Arizona-style law.
It is impossible to separate the effect of the Utah Compact from the LDS Church’s support in the model. Both occurred on the same day and in the same direction. But the model suggests that some voters received the signals sent by prominent political, religious, and business leaders who signed the Compact, along with the LDS Church’s support.
Jordan Stauss, an undergraduate research assistant and political science major at BYU, contributed to this post.