Update: The 2015 Legislature will be Utah’s 2nd most Republican since the Depression

The 2015 Legislature has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, since the 96.8% majority of 1927.

Two weeks ago, preliminary results showed Democrats picking up one seat in the Utah House and holding steady in the Utah Senate. At the time, I wrote that this change would give us the 3rd most Republican Legislature since the Depression.

Now that provisional and absentee ballots have been counted, though, three seats in the Utah House that appeared initially to have been won by Democrats were actually won by Republicans. That means Republicans are up a net of two sets in the House and steady in the Senate. And that means we now have the 2nd most Republican Legislature since the Depression.

The chart below shows the trend since statehood. Utah’s Legislature experienced a genuinely competitive period from the 1940s through 1970s. Republicans have dominated the Legislature since that time. Though Democrats made some inroads in the 1990s, Republicans have gained seats for three straight elections–2008, 2010, and 2012.

Republican control of the Legislature, 1897-2015

Republican control of the Legislature, 1897-2015

The end result: In 2015, the Utah House will be 84% Republican and the Utah Senate will be 83% Republican. Overall, 83.7% of legislators are Republican. Let’s put that in perspective a few ways.

Putting the 2015 Utah House into perspective

  • The 2015 Utah House has a larger Republican majority (63 Representatives) than at any time since 1973, when the House was increased to its current size (75 seats).
  • In percentage terms, the 2015 Utah House has the largest Republican majority in 48 years, larger than any session since the 59-10 majority (85.5% of seats) in 1967.
  • The 2015 Utah House has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, larger than any session (other than 1967) since the 49-6 (89%) majority of 1927.
  • The 2015 Utah House has the sixth largest Republican majority since statehood, following 1921 (98%), 1909 (96%), 1905 (91%), 1927 (89%), and 1967 (86%).

Putting the 2015 Utah Senate into perspective

Neither party gained seats in this year’s Senate elections. Like last year, Republicans hold a 24-5 (83%) Senate majority. But let’s put that into historical perspective:

  • The 2015 Utah Senate ties with the 2013 and 1985 Utah Senates for the largest Republican majority (83%) since 1973, when the Senate reached its current size (29 seats).
  • The 2015, 2013, and 1985 Utah Senates are also in a three-way tie for the largest Republican majority since the 95% Republican majority seen consecutively in the 1923, 1925, and 1927 Utah Senates.

Putting the combined 2015 Utah Legislature into perspective

Overall, 87 of 104 (83.7%) Utah legislators are Republican. Perspective:

  • The 2015 Legislature has the largest Republican majority (83.7%) since 1973, when both chambers reached their current sizes.
  • The 2015 Legislature has the largest Republican majority in 48 years, since the 84.5% majority of 1967.
  • The 2015 Legislature has the second largest Republican majority in 88 years, since the 96.8% majority of 1927.

What will happen next time?

Democrats may have hit rock bottom. For the most part, they have been reduced only to districts that are near-unwinnable for Republicans. The most obvious exception is Price’s House District 69, which flipped from Republican to Democratic in this year’s lone bright spot for Democrats, but which could easily flip back in 2016. Apart from that one seat, there probably aren’t many more opportunities for Republicans to pick up more seats in 2016.

Most of the competitive districts around the periphery of Salt Lake’s Democratic core have been taken by Republicans in the past couple elections. Since competitive districts are now mostly held by Republicans, Democrats have the opportunity in 2016 to regain some ground–but only if they field capable candidates and get their party organization firing on all cylinders.

But before Democrats fantasize too much about regaining seats in 2016, they should remember how much worse it has been for them in the past. Since statehood, 1 in 6 elections has produced an even stronger Republican majority than we’ll see in 2015.1 And Republicans have controlled 100% of Utah Senate seats more than once. Complacency will get Democrats nowhere in 2016.

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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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