Consensus voting is still the norm in Utah legislature

The frequency of consensus voting should provide reassurance that the legislative process works much of the time.

Congress is known for its partisan wrangling and party-line votes, but the environment is completely different in the Utah legislature. Here in Utah, almost all floor votes are decided by overwhelmingly large margins, with Republicans and Democrats alike agreeing to support a bill. Party-line votes are extremely rare.

Average size of voting majorities

During the 2012 legislative session, the average House vote had 93% of legislators voting the same way, and the average Senate vote had 95% voting the same way. Republicans control only 77% of House seats and 76% of Senate seats, so these massive voting majorities indicate cross-party consensus voting.

This has been a consistent trend for several years, as shown here:

Average size of voting majority in House Average size of voting majority in Senate
2007 93% 96%
2008 94% 96%
2009 92% 96%
2010 93% 95%
2011 92% 96%
2012 93% 95%

Frequency of near-unanimous votes

Another way to look at this is to consider how frequently each chamber has a near-unanimous vote, defined here as a vote with 90% or more of legislators voting the same way. This, too, has been consistently frequent over the years:

Frequency of near-unanimous votes in House Frequency of near-unanimous votes in Senate
2007 77% 85%
2008 79% 85%
2009 76% 85%
2010 76% 84%
2011 70% 86%
2012 76% 83%

Party-line voting

The result of all this consensus voting is that party-line votes are rare in the Utah legislature. Only 13% of House votes and 8% of Senate votes were decided along party lines during the 2012 session. (It’s a “party line” vote if a majority of Republicans votes one way and a majority of Democrats votes the other way.) As you can see from this chart, those numbers are pretty typical.

Frequency of party line votes in the Utah legislature

What does it mean?

I wrote earlier today that bills seem to pass through the legislature more quickly than they used to, which raises a concern as to whether the legislature vets bill less carefully than it used to. The data in this post work against that concern.

I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I’ve noticed that it’s rare for a bill to pass without being heavily amended first. A legislator’s initial bill idea might be flawed, but by the time the bill makes it through committee hearings and floor debates, it is likely to have been moderated in a way that makes it broadly acceptable.

The frequency of consensus voting should provide reassurance that the legislative process works much of the time.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the Utah legislature sees its share of partisan battles and narrow victories. Those divided votes are the ones that tend to provoke media coverage and public outcry. But the overall pattern is one of consensus building.

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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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