A Clear Majority of Utah Voters Want the Legislature to Impeach Swallow

When a majority of strong partisans from a politician’s own party favor impeachment, that politician is in serious trouble

Update/Correction:  Although the numbers posted in the topline report were released correctly yesterday, the graphic and prose for the favorability numbers posted here contained an error.  The “favorable” numbers correctly joined “very” and “somewhat” favorable.  However, the “unfavorable” numbers only listed “very unfavorable” instead of adding the two together.  This mistake occurred for all of the candidates as I created the graphic and was then carried into the text.  I have now corrected the post to reflect the numbers from the topline and apologize for my error.  Thanks to Bob Bernick’s eagle eye for comparing the graphic to the topline and pointing out the discrepancy.

Numerous allegations have been made about Utah Attorney General John Swallow in recent weeks.  Public sentiment about the controversy has been largely absent from the discussion.  With Swallow mounting a more public defense in the last few days and legislators on the cusp of a meeting to discuss the charges and possibly move forward on impeachment, the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU fielded a Utah Voter Poll that included a host of questions about the controversy. Detailed analysis comes below.  Here are the highlights:

  • John Swallow’s favorability is extremely low, now sitting at 12%  (combining “somewhat” and “strongly” favorable).  Less than 2% respond “strongly favorable.”
  • News of the accusations against Swallow is widespread among voters, and folks who have heard about it overwhelmingly believe that Swallow has committed ethical or legal infractions.  87% of Utah voters have “heard, read, or seen anything recently about the accusations,” and of this group, 34% think Swallow has done something illegal and 63% respond that he has done something unethical.  Less than 4% believe that Swallow has done nothing unethical.
  • A strong majority of voters favors beginning the impeachment process. After a brief introduction to the Utah impeachment process, 72% say the Utah House of Representatives should allow formal impeachment proceedings to begin.
  • When the roughly one quarter of Utah voters who do not want impeachment to begin are asked why not, 62% say that the legislature “should wait until the criminal investigations are complete.”  Only 4% say so because they “don’t believe the accusations.”
  •  The electoral consequences of beginning impeachment proceedings now are low. When asked if their own legislator voted to begin impeachment proceedings, a plurality of Utah voters (35%) say that doing so would increase their support for the legislator, while a majority (56%) say it would “neither increase nor decrease my support.”  Only 9% of voters respond that doing so would decrease their support.
  • Finally, at the end of the sequence of questions we asked, “Thinking about everything you have read or heard about the John Swallow situation, which of the following comes closest to your view of what should happen right now?”  78% say Swallow should resign and 22% say he should stay in office.

Favorability

Most of the time, elected officials are pleased when the ratio of favorable to unfavorable attitudes about them is at or above 2:1.  Governor Herbert enjoys a 3:1 ratio and Congressman Matheson is not far behind.  Utah’s two senators both sit near a 1:1 ratio that signals that most of their constituents are reasonably happy with their performance.   John Swallow’s ratio at nearly 1:7 is so backwards that it would cast a dark shadow over any elected official unlucky enough to have such low favorability.  Swallow’s 12% favorability is nearly 40 percentage points below that of Senators Lee and Hatch and over 60 percentage points below Governor Herbert.

Swallow Favorability CORRECTED

Do Republicans and Democrats differ on these questions?

When we examine the various questions about Swallow using partisan identification, two things become clear.  Not surprisingly, there are some partisan differences on questions about Swallow’s behavior generally as well as about both impeachment and resignation.  However, Utahns of all political stripes agree that elected officials should move forward to resolve the situation.  88% of Democrats and 75% of Independents want the legislature to begin impeachment proceedings now.  Republican support for impeachment is slightly lower, but even a large majority of Republicans (65%) want the legislature to begin the process.  This is also true for a clear majority (54%) of “strong Republicans” – who might be thought of as Swallow’s last line of defense.  Of the “strong Republicans” who do not favor impeachment, only 9% say it is because Swallow did nothing wrong or because the charges are not serious enough.  Of those strong Republicans who want to wait, the vast majority (72%) responds that they prefer the criminal investigations to be complete first.  When a majority of strong partisans from a politician’s own party favor impeachment, that politician is in serious trouble, especially when less than ten percent of those believe that the charges are minor or untrue.

Swallow Impeach

Swallow Resign

Additional Implications

We asked a few additional questions to try to unpack some of the other facets of this ongoing story.  Ethics and campaign finance reform constantly returns to the agenda of the state legislature and this scandal may yet bring us additional attempts at reform.  We get a taste of public preferences in the context of this particular story with an agree/disagree question that says, “The attorney general should not take campaign contributions from businesses he is supposed to regulate.”  More than 90% of voters agree with this statement and 76% strongly agree.

Some have defended Swallow by asserting that “he has been a victim of the media.”  A quarter of voters are ambivalent about this statement, while only about a third of voters agree and a plurality (40%) disagree.  In other words, most voters do not believe that Swallow has been the target of an unfair media campaign.

Voters harbor strong doubts about whether or not Swallow can “still be an effective attorney general.”  Only 21% of voters agree that Swallow can still be effective while 61% disagree.

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.

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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.
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