BYU vs Utah: Not Just a Sporting Rivalry

This analysis was performed by Jordan Rogers, a student research fellow at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, in collaboration with CSED faculty. The writing is mostly his. Inquiries about this research should come to me (Quin Monson). While Jordan cheers for BYU, his brother graduated from the University of Utah.

Since Brigham Young University (BYU) and the University of Utah (U of U) football teams played earlier than we’re all used to this year, researchers at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy decided to have a little fun with the rivalry. After all, there is a basketball game on Saturday.

In our September 2011 Utah Voter Poll (UVP), after asking a variety of political and demographic questions, we asked, “Who do you cheer for when the University of Utah plays Brigham Young University in athletic events?” (Note: we even alternated the order of the schools in the question stem to avoid biasing the results). Let’s take a look and see how BYU and U of U match up.

First of all, BYU and U of U supporters don’t have meaningful differences in educational attainment, income, or gender ratios. In a lot of ways, BYU and U of U fans are very similar.

But a stark difference arises when we look at politics. For example, respondents were asked to rate a variety of national and state politicians using a typical “thermometer” question. The table below shows average ratings for all respondents, each school’s fans, and a difference between the two. University of Utah fans have much more favorable opinions of Jim Matheson and Jon Huntsman, while BYU fans have more favorable opinions on the rest.

“Below is a list of politicians from the state of Utah. Please rate how favorably you feel toward each of the following officeholders on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is completely unfavorable, 100 is completely favorable, and 50 is neutral.”
Politician Average Rating BYU Average U of U Average Difference BYU – UofU
Gary Herbert 59 72 46 26
Orrin Hatch 51 63 37 26
Mike Lee 50 63 36 27
Rob Bishop 50 64 38 26
Jim Matheson 58 56 63 -7
“Below is a list of some of the candidates currently seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Please rate how favorably you feel toward each candidate on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is completely unfavorable, 100 is completely favorable, and 50 is neutral.
Politician Average Rating BYU Rating U of U Rating Difference BYU – UofU
Mitt Romney 67 82 54 28
Jon Huntsman 57 53 63 -10
Michele Bachmann 31 40 21 19
Rick Perry 31 38 24 14
Ron Paul 40 41 36 5

However, before we make too much of these differences, it might be good to check whether the differences actually reflect the different partisan leanings among BYU fans and U of U fans. There are far more Republicans among BYU fans (85% GOP) than among U of U fans (40% GOP); however, even if we look only at self-identified Republicans, we still find that the two fan bases differ in their favorability ratings. The table below again compares the average ratings from each set of fans, but this time, only Republicans are included. Republican BYU fans have more favorable opinions of Gary Herbert, Orrin Hatch, Mike Lee, Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop and Mitt Romney, while Republican U of U fans have a more favorable opinion of Ron Paul. Jim Matheson received identical ratings from Republican BYU and U of U fans, perhaps explaining his uncanny ability to win reelection in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

Ratings Among Republicans Only
Politician Average Rating BYU Average U of U Average Difference BYU – UofU
Gary Herbert 71 76 63 13
Orrin Hatch 64 67 56 11
Mike Lee 67 68 65 3
Rob Bishop 65 68 60 8
Jim Matheson 54 54 54 0
Ratings Among Republicans Only
Politician Average Rating BYU Average U of U Average Difference BYU – UofU
Mitt Romney 81 86 77 9
Jon Huntsman 52 51 52 -1
Michele Bachmann 43 43 41 2
Rick Perry 41 40 41 -1
Ron Paul 42 39 43 -4

Overall, these data suggest some substantial political differences between U of U and BYU fans. While these differences get smaller among Republicans only, they don’t quite go away. In other words, there appear to be political differences among Republicans in Utah that can only be explained by knowing which school an individual cheers for. In that spirit, we reveal that we cheer for BYU and wish the BYU basketball team good luck on Saturday.

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About Quin Monson

Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and a Senior Scholar with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
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