The Current State of the 2014 Utah Campaigns

It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.

This post was written by Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, with assistance from  Alejandra Gimenez, a CSED undergraduate research fellow.  Inquires about the survey or its methodology should be directed toward Professors Karpowitz and Pope.

With the 2014 midterm elections just a few days away, where do the races currently stand?  From October 15-22, BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy fielded the latest Utah Voter Poll, which is a statewide sample of voters who were recruited to participate after completing the Utah Colleges Exit Poll in a previous election year.  (More details about the sample and methodology are available here.)  We asked voters a number of questions about their views of Utah politicians, including their current vote choices in the upcoming electoral races.

We find that Utahns are reasonably happy with state leaders, especially Governor Herbert.  Overall, he enjoys a 76% approval rating, with only 24% disapproving.   (That approval rate jumps to 93% among self-identified Republicans and falls to 45% among Democrats.  Levels of approval among independents are about the same as the statewide average.)  The public’s views of the legislature are comparatively less enthusiastic, but still generally positive, with 58% approving and 42% disapproving.

With respect to the upcoming midterms, we presented voters with the choices they will face at the ballot on election day.  Given that ours is a sample of voters who have been to the polls in previous years, nearly all our respondents (99%) said they were somewhat likely (8%) or very likely (91%) to vote this year.

In 2014, Utahns will vote in only one statewide race — the special election for Attorney General. In light of the scandals that have engulfed both John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, some observers wondered whether Utahns would be more hesitant to support the Republican candidate for attorney general or more willing to give the Democratic candidate a closer look.  But that does not seem to be the case among the voters in our sample, as Table 1 shows.  While 18% were not yet sure about their vote choice, nearly 50% expressed support for Sean Reyes, the Republican, and he has a 20-point lead over Charles Stormont — well beyond the margin of error for this survey.

Special Election for Attorney General
% Supporting
Sean Reyes, Republican 47%
Charles A. Stormont, Democrat 27%
W. Andrew McCullough, Libertarian 4%
Gregory G. Hansen, Constitution 2%
Leslie D. Curtis, American Independent 1%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 18%
Do not plan on voting in this election 1%
Total 100%
(776 respondents)

Congressional Races in Districts 1-3

In addition to the statewide race, we also asked voters about their preferences for the congressional candidates in their districts.  Because the number of respondents within each district is smaller than for the state as a whole, the margin of error for each of these congressional district results is higher than the normal 3.4% margin of error for a simple random sample (see the topline report for more detail about the survey’s margin of error).  In addition, readers should keep in mind that our survey is designed to be a statewide sample of voters, not a separate sample of each congressional district.  Thus, the results should be treated as more of an indicator of what is happening in the congressional races, rather than as a definitive prediction of the final outcome.

In Congressional Districts 1 through 3, we see considerable advantages for the Republican candidates.  Rob Bishop leads Donna McAleer by nearly 20 points, and Jason Chaffetz is ahead of the seldom-campaigning Brian Wonnacott by almost 35 points.  In the second district, the race is somewhat closer (a little less than 7 percentage points), but our sample of voters in that district leans somewhat more Democratic than the other congressional districts and somewhat more Democratic than the 2012 electorate.  In 2012, Chris Stewart defeated the Democrat Jay Seegmiller by nearly 30 points, so a 7-point race is tighter than past experience would indicate.  In all three congressional districts, between 14-15% of respondents to our poll said that they had not yet made a firm vote choice, but in the 1st and 3rd districts, even if all of those voters were to choose the Democratic candidate (an unlikely occurrence), it would not be enough to close the gap.

Congressional District 1
% Supporting
Rob Bishop, Republican 49.1%
Donna M. McAleer, Democrat 30.8%
Craig Bowden, Libertarian 3.2%
Dwayne A. Vance, American Independent 2.0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.9%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(159 respondents)
Congressional District 2
% Supporting 
 Chris Stewart, Republican  43.3%
 Luz Robles, Democrat  36.7%
 Wayne L. Hill, Independent American  0%
 Shaun McCausland, Constitution 2.8%
 Bill Barron, Independent  1.4%
 Don’t Know/Someone Else  15.8%
 Do not plan on voting in this election  0%
 Total  100%
(192 respondents)
Congressional District 3
% Supporting
Jason Chaffetz, Republican 59.0%
Brian Wonnacott, Democrat 24.9%
Zach Strong, Independent American 0.9%
Ben J. Mates, Independent 0.6%
Stephen P. Tryon, Independent 0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.1%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0.5%
Total 100%
(169 respondents)

The Competitive 4th District

In our sample, the closest race is in the 4th Congrssional District.  The state of this race has been the subject of considerable speculation, with dueling campaign polls portraying very different electoral landscapes.  The most recent independent poll showed Mia Love ahead by 9 percentage points.

Our results show a 4th district race that appears to have tightened considerably in October.  Among our 236 4th district respondents, Doug Owens has 45.8% to Mia Love’s 42.2% — a result that is statistically indistinguishable from a tie.  In contrast to the results in the other congressional districts, only 6.6% of voters in CD4 claimed they had not yet made up their minds at the time the survey was in the field.

Congressional District 4
% Supporting
Mia B. Love, Republican 42.2%
Doug Owens, Democrat 45.8%
Jim L. Vein, Libertarian 3.6%
Tim Aalders, Independent American 0.5%
Collin Robert Simonsen, Constitution 1.3%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 6.6%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(236 respondents)

When we break down the results still further, it appears that Owens is taking nearly all the votes of Democrats in the 4th District (97%) and is capturing a meaningful number of Republicans (22%, compared to Mia Love’s 66% of Republicans).  The number of independents in our 4th District sample is too small for reliable conclusions, but Owens may have a lead among those voters, too.  For Owens to win, he will need to follow Jim Matheson’s pattern of overwhelming victory among Democrats and solid support from independents and Republicans.  In 2012, for example, the Utah Colleges Exit Poll showed that Matheson won 94% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 23% of Republicans in the district.  Owens’s performance in the current poll parallels that result very closely.

In addition to comparing the Utah Voter Poll results with past elections, we can examine the differences between the Love-Owens race and the Reyes-Stormont AG race among 4th District voters.  In other words, we can explore how the behavior of the same voters in the district sample varies across the two races.  The comparison is illuminating because in our sample, the Republican Sean Reyes has a substantial lead among 4th District voters, a result that closely resembles the statewide margin.  Similarly, levels of approval for the governor in the 4th District almost perfectly mirror approval levels for the state as a whole.  In other words, the result is not driven by a sample of voters who are unwilling to report support for a Republican candidate.

While the exact composition of the 2014 electorate won’t be known until the day of the election itself, our sample looks similar to the distribution of self-reported partisan identification in the 4th District in 2012.  If anything, respondents to our October Utah Voter Poll were slightly more Republican than the 2012 electorate.  Given national trends and past patterns in midterm elections, we might expect a more Republican electorate in 2014 than in 2012, but it does not appear that our result is driven by a sample of respondents that happened to skew substantially less Republican than previous elections in the district.

From our vantage point, the 4th District race is worth watching carefully.  Despite Mia Love’s considerable fundraising and name recognition advantage, this poll should be read as an indicator that the race is still competitive.  We want to emphasize again that these results have limitations, given the nature of our sampling strategy, but we do not see Love or Owens with a significant lead.  It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.  We expect that the campaign for the small number of undecided voters in the district will be intense.

Methodology

Click here to download a topline report that includes the 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.

About Chris Karpowitz: Chris Karpowitz is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

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Utah Voters Support Medicaid Expansion

43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

 This post was written by CSED Research Fellow and BYU Political Scientist Jay Goodliffe with assistance from CSED Undergraduate Research Fellow John Griffith.  Inquiries about the analysis should be directed to Jay Goodliffe or Quin Monson.

The April 2014 Utah Voter Poll (UVP) found that a majority of Utah voters support some form of Medicaid expansion.  Choosing between plans proposed by Governor Gary Herbert, Speaker Becky Lockhart, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and no change, 43% of Utah voters prefer the Governor’s plan, 33% prefer the ACA plan, 13% prefer no change, and 11% prefer the Speaker’s Plan.

As the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has begun to take effect, Republican governors are deciding how to close a gap in health insurance created by a 2012 Supreme Court decision making Medicaid expansion optional to the states. While the Obama administration has been encouraging states to expand Medicaid through federal Obamacare funding, governors in conservative states have been looking for other methods of expanding coverage. In Utah, Governor Herbert has proposed taking $258 million of the annually available $524 million in federal funds and seeking a waiver allowing the state to provide subsidies to help up to 111,000 low-income Utahns buy private insurance. In contrast, Utah House Republicans, led by Speaker Lockhart, offered a plan which rejects the $524 million of federal funds and uses $35 million in state money and supplements them with $80 million of federal dollars to extend partial health care benefits to 54,000 or fewer of low-income Utahns.

Two forms of the question

In the poll, voters were presented with a short description of each plan without labeling the primary sponsor. When participants chose between the four plans, 43% preferred the Governor’s plan, 33% preferred the full Obamacare funds, 13% preferred maintaining the status quo, and 11% preferred the Speaker’s plan.  Some participants were offered a “Don’t Know” option, in addition to the four other options. When the “Don’t Know” option was available, 30% favored Obamacare, 29% favored the Governor’s plan, 17% favored maintaining the status quo, 11% favored the Speaker’s plan, and 14% chose “Don’t Know.”  When the “Don’t Know” option was available, the Governor’s plan lost the most support, which may indicate that support for his plan is not as strong. However, we surmise that if the plan were labeled “Governor Herbert’s plan,” it would receive stronger support. In the analysis that follows, we will use the poll question where participants could not answer “Don’t Know,” but the results are qualitatively similar if we include that option, except where we note below. With either form of the question, the poll results show that most voters prefer some kind of Medicaid expansion.

medicaidsupport

Partisan differences

There is a clear partisan split when it comes to support for the four options for Medicaid funding. The poll shows that 53% of Republican voters support the Governor’s plan, 77% of Democrats favor the full Obamacare funds, and Independents are split between the two, with 44% favoring the Governor’s plan and 41% favoring Obamacare.  (When “Don’t Know” is included as an option, support for the Governor’s Plan drops among Republicans and Independents.)  Participants who self-identified as being of an “Other” political party overwhelmingly chose to maintain the status quo (57% preferring this plan), likely due to support for that plan among the state’s libertarians.  However, those identifying with an “Other” political party constitute only 5% of Utah voters. The results of the poll show that there is little support for the Speaker’s plan, even among Republican voters.

medicaidparty

Ideological differences

Looking at support for each plan based on political ideology shows that the greatest support for Speaker Lockhart’s plan comes from those who consider themselves to be strongly conservative, with 25% of this group preferring her plan. Yet even among strongly conservative voters, 36% prefer the Governor’s and 33% prefer no change.  In general, liberal voters prefer Obamacare, and moderate and conservative voters prefer the Governor’s plan. (Some of the moderate and conservative support for the Governor’s plan shifts to “Don’t Know” when “Don’t Know” is available as an option.)

medicaidideology

Political observers have noted that Speaker Lockhart may challenge Governor Herbert for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2016. The Medicaid issue could be a significant one in that election. While caucus and primary voters are not necessarily representative of general election voters, this poll shows far more support for the Governorís plan than the Speakerís plan. In general, most Utah voters prefer some form of Medicaid expansion, regardless of party or ideology.

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.

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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Recap: The 2014 Utah Legislature

I’ve just posted several items about the recently concluded legislative session. Here’s a quick overview:

The 2014 Legislature: Slow out of the gate, frantic in the stretch. Legislators considered 786 bills, but a procedural change caused a major crunch in the last few days of the session.

Once again, consensus voting reigns in the Utah Legislature. Votes seldom fail in the Legislature. Instead, most bills pass with broad bipartisan support. This post also lists how frequently each legislator votes “nay.” Rep McCay and Rep Anderegg top the list.

The closest votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature. The title says it all.

Who sponsored the most bills in the 2014 Utah Legislature? Some legislators introduced no bills. Sen. Bramble led the pack with 26 bills.

Who missed the most votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature?. Senators miss a lot of votes, as do budget chairs and some floor leaders.

Bonus: Here are some items I posted while the session was still in progress.

Did changing the calendar create a major crunch day in the Legislature? (Posted March 13th, the morning of the final day.) The answer, posted earlier today, is apparently “yes.”

How busy has the Legislature been so far? Checking in on the workload as of week 5 of the 7-week session, and seeing early signs of the end-of-session crunch that was already developing.

Does it matter that the Utah Senate votes twice on each bill? (Posted February 11th.) The Senate holds two floor votes on each bill, unlike the House. But Senators tend to skip the first floor vote, and they never reverse themselves on the second floor vote, which might leave one wondering what the point of holding two floor votes is.

I’ve got lots more statistics about the Legislature on my personal website that I don’t plan to write up for a blog post. You can poke around to see what I’ve got by clicking here.

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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Who missed the most votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature?

Legislators miss a lot of votes in the Utah Legislature, and some miss more than others. As the figure below shows, there wasn’t much change in the overall absenteeism rate, with 12% of Senators and 6% of Representatives missing a typical vote.

Percent of legislators absent during an average vote, by chamber and year

Percent of legislators absent during an average vote, by chamber and year

The table below shows legislators with the top 10 and bottom 10 attendance rates. (Due to a tie for 10th, there are actually 11 in the first table.) You can click here for data on all 104 legislators.

Westwood, John R. R House 0.0%
Poulson, Marie H. D House 0.5%
Eliason, Steve R House 0.6%
Handy, Stephen G. R House 0.8%
Kennedy, Michael S. R House 0.9%
Redd, Edward H. R House 0.9%
Cox, Jon R House 1.1%
Christofferson, Kay J. R House 1.5%
Wiley, Larry B. D House 1.5%
Anderson, Jerry B. R House 1.8%
Greenwood, Richard A. R House 1.8%
Hughes, Gregory H. R House 18.4%
Stanard, Jon E. R House 18.8%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 18.8%
Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 19.0%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 19.3%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 20.6%
Madsen, Mark B. R Senate 21.2%
Lockhart, Rebecca D. R House 22.1%
Brown, Melvin R. R House 23.6%
Hillyard, Lyle W. R Senate 28.6%

A few things jump out:

  • The 10 legislators with the best attendance records are all in the House. Maybe that’s because the Senate holds two floor votes on each bill (unlike the House), and Senators have a habit of skipping the first of those two votes. (I gave the data on this in a previous post.)
  • Those responsible for putting together the budget tend to miss a vote. The House and Senate budget chairs are Mel Brown and Lyle Hillyard; their vice chairs are Jerry Stevenson and Brad Wilson. Three of these four show up in the “most absent” list (and the fourth, Brad Wilson, barely escaped.
  • It’s common to see legislative leaders in the “most absent” list, which may explain the presence of Becky Lockhart (Speaker), Greg Hughes (House majority whip), and Ralph Okerlund (Senate majority leader). With only seven weeks in the session, they leave the floor at times to handle their leadership duties. (Of course, a medical emergency also pushed Sen. Okerlund’s absentee rate up.)
  • It’s also common to see active bill sponsors miss a lot of votes. Curt Bramble sponsored more bills than anybody this year and also missed a lot of votes. With only seven weeks, an active bill sponsor will need to leave the floor at times to work on legislation.

As for the rest of the legislators in the “most absent” club, I am unaware of any special circumstances (budget duties, leadership responsibilities, or active bill sponsorship) that would explain their high absentee rate.

Update: I’ve learned that Rep. Jon Stanard was excused from the last day of the session to attend a family funeral. Given how many votes were held on the last day, this unfortunate event undoubtedly contributed to his high absentee rate.

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Who sponsored the most bills in the 2014 Utah Legislature?

Legislators vary widely in how many bills they introduce. Presiding officers (Speaker and Senate President) seldom sponsor bills, and that was the case again this year. Neither Speaker Lockhart nor President Niederhauser introduced any legislation. (Lockhart’s education technology initiative was formally introduced by Rep Francis Gibson, not by the Speaker.)

Beyond that, bill sponsorship is perhaps more a matter of personal preference than anything else. So without further commentary, here are the data. You can make your own inferences about possible explanations.

First, let’s look first at the 10 least active bill sponsors. (There is a six-way tie for seventh place, so there are actually more than 10 legislators in this table.)

Legislator Bills introduced
Grover, Keith House R 0
Lockhart, Rebecca D. House R 0
Niederhauser, Wayne L. Senate R 0
Westwood, John R. House R 0
Fisher, Janice M. House D 1
Nelson, Merrill F. House R 1
Barlow, Stewart House R 2
Duckworth, Susan House D 2
Mathis, John G. House R 2
McCay, Daniel House R 2
Sanpei, Dean House R 2
Tanner, Earl D. House R 2

And now the 10 most active bill sponsors. (There are 11 in this table due to a three-way tie for 9th place.)

Eliason, Steve House R 16
Harper, Wayne A. Senate R 16
Jenkins, Scott K. Senate R 16
Hillyard, Lyle W. Senate R 17
Osmond, Aaron Senate R 17
Stephenson, Howard A. Senate R 17
Valentine, John L. Senate R 17
Nielson, Jim House R 18
Weiler, Todd Senate R 19
Powell, Kraig House R 20
Bramble, Curtis S. Senate R 26

It’s no surprise that Senator Bramble leads the charts. He does so almost every year. In fact, when you at all legislators who served at any time between 2007 and 2014, Sen. Bramble has the highest overall average, coming in at 22.3 bills introduced per session served. He’s followed by Lyle Hillyard (21.1 bills/session), Greg Bell (18.0 bills/session), Wayne Harper (17.3), and Todd Weiler (17.0).

However, Hillyard edges Bramble out when it comes to legislation actually enacted. Lyle Hillyard passes 18.9 bills/session, compared to 16.6 bills/per session for Bramble. Looks like we’ve got a rivalry brewing, folks.

You can find data for all 104 legislators here.

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The closest votes in the 2014 Utah Legislature

Close votes are rare in the Utah Legislature. Instead, the typical bill passes with over 90% of legislators voting the same way. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Here, I’ve listed the 20 closest votes in each chamber this year. Click a bill’s name to read its content; click a vote breakdown to see how individual legislators voted. (If you’re looking for the closest votes from past years, click here.)

The 20 closest votes in the 2014 Utah House

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
SB0257 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-37-0 1
HB0140 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
HB0358 House/ failed 36-38-1 2
SB0097S03 House/ failed 35-37-3 2
HB0297 House/ failed 35-38-2 3
SB0023 House/ failed 33-36-6 3
SB0072S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-35-2 3
SB0237 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-35-1 4
HB0077 House/ failed 32-37-6 5
HB0091S01 House/ failed 35-40-0 5
HB0409 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-33-3 6
SB0053S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-32-4 7
SB0072S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-31-6 7
HB0094 House/ failed 32-40-3 8
HB0228S01 House/ failed 33-41-1 8
HJR008S01 House/ failed 32-41-2 9
SB0093S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-31-4 9
SB0097S03 House/ floor amendment failed 31-40-4 9
SB0179S03 House/ floor amendment 39-29-7 10
SB0179s02 House/ floor amendment 39-29-7 10

The 20 closest votes in the 2014 Utah Senate

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HB0418S03 Senate/ failed 13-13-3 0
SB0202 Senate/ failed 14-14-1 0
HB0020S02 Senate/ circled 14-13-2 1
HB0020S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-13-1 2
SJR015S01 Senate/ failed 13-15-1 2
HB0120S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-12-2 3
SB0164 Senate/ failed 14-11-4 3
SB0202 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SJR003 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-13-0 3
SB0012 Senate/ failed 12-16-1 4
SB0048S01 Senate/ failed 12-8-9 4
SB0111S03 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0114 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0243 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-11-3 4
HB0140 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-9-5 6
HB0356S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 17-11-1 6
HB0356S01 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 17-11-1 6
SB0112S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-10-3 6
SB0157 Senate/ failed 11-17-1 6
SB0249S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 17-11-1 6

You’ll find lots more statistics and analysis of the Utah Legislature here.

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Once again, consensus voting reigns in the Utah Legislature

Legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party.

Utah legislators really don’t like to vote “no.” If a bill comes to a vote, you can be all but certain that it will succeed. The figure below tells the story; for each year since 2007, it shows the average size of the voting majority (as a percent). In 2014, the average House vote saw 93% of Representatives voting the same way; in the Senate, the average was 96%.

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

This means that Republicans and Democrats typically vote together. A “party-line” vote—that is, a vote where a majority of Republicans votes against a majority of Democrats—is rare in the Legislature. In 2014, only 10% of House votes and 5% of Senate votes were decided along party lines. Those numbers were marginally lower than in recent years (detailed data is here). The figure shows the trend:

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

We shouldn’t be surprised by this result. The 2012 elections gave us the second-most Republican Legislature in the past 80 years. Democrats control 14 of 75 House seats and 5 of 29 Senate seats. By playing nice, Democrats ensure that Republicans will reciprocate. In fact, Democrats managed to pass 49% of their bills this year despite their small numbers. (Data for previous years is here.) The chart below shows that this was one of their highest rates in the past several years—a success rate only 15 percentage points lower than the 64% success rate for Republican-sponsored bills.

Party batting averages, by year

Party batting averages, by year

So we’ve seen that legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party. That doesn’t mean bills don’t die, though. Lots of bills die. But they die because they run out of time, not because they were voted down.

If we look only at bills that made it out of committee and had at least one floor vote, 80% were successfully enacted while 20% were not. Let’s look at that latter group for a moment. Of these bills, though, only 18% were actually voted down on the floor; the remaining 82% simply didn’t complete their journey through the legislative process before the session ended. Bills die because they time out, not because they are voted down.

Let’s get to the fun part now. Legislators obviously vary in how excited they are to vote “no.” First let’s list legislators who vote “no” less than 4% of the time. You’ll notice they are almost all in the Senate.

Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 1%
Osmond, Aaron R Senate 1%
Adams, J. Stuart R Senate 1%
Niederhauser, Wayne L. R Senate 1%
Weiler, Todd R Senate 1%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 1%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 2%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 2%
Knudson, Peter C. R Senate 2%
Thatcher, Daniel W. R Senate 2%
Shiozawa, Brian E. R Senate 2%
Reid, Stuart C. R Senate 3%
Eliason, Steve R House 3%
Hinkins, David P. R Senate 3%

Next we’ll list legislators who vote “no” 10% of the time or more. They’re mostly in the House.

Menlove, Ronda Rudd R House 10%
Chavez-Houck, Rebecca D House 10%
Briscoe, Joel K. D House 10%
Dayton, Margaret R Senate 10%
Romero, Angela D House 10%
Cox, Jon R House 11%
Wilcox, Ryan D. R House 11%
Roberts, Marc K. R House 11%
Knotwell, John R House 12%
Greene, Brian M. R House 13%
Bird, Jim R House 13%
Anderegg, Jacob L. R House 15%
McCay, Daniel R House 15%

You might expect most “no” votes to come from the minority party. Though a few Democrats did find their way into the second table, legislators at both extremes tend to be Republicans. We seem to be seeing intraparty ideological splits among Republicans here more than cross-party disagreements.

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The 2014 Legislature: Slow out of the gate, frantic in the stretch

Clearly, something caused the Legislature to fall behind in its bill processing this year.

Utah legislators introduced 786 bills and resolutions in the 2014 session—fewer than the 800 we saw in 2009, but still higher than usual. However, a procedural change caused legislators to delay action on most of those bills until later in the session than usual. The result may have been an even more hurried process than usual, with even less time than in the past to consider legislation before voting on it.

What changed?

The Utah Constitution requires the Legislature to enact a budget during each year’s legislative session. Budget negotiations typically run late into the night in the final days of the session. Hoping to avoid that last-minute outcome this year, legislative leaders changed the session’s 7-week calendar. They deleted all standing committee hearings from the session’s first week, replacing them with budget hearings.

Of course, it’s the standing committees that consider the Legislature’s hundreds of bills each year. Putting them off for a week meant legislators had only 6 weeks in practice (instead of the usual 7) to consider legislation.

Bills were introduced later

Legislators continued to introduce legislation as early in the session as has been typical in the past few years. In 2014, the average bill was introduced on day 14 of the session. Compare that to day 14.7 in 2013, day 14.1 in 2012, day 15.5 in 2011, and day 12.4 in 2010. (More data.)

But the one-week hiatus on committee hearings apparently caused a bill processing backlog that legislators never overcame. As a result, bills tended to have their first floor vote much later in the session than in the past. Take a look:

Year Average day when bills had their first vote Average day of final passage
2009 25.8 36.1
2010 25.4 36.8
2011 26.8 36.4
2012 26.7 36.4
2013 26.2 36.8
2014 29.6 38.7

From 2009 through 2013, the average bill had its first floor vote on day 26 or 27 (out of 45). This year, we saw a 3 day jump in that average, to day 30.

We also saw a bump in the average bill’s final day of passage. There are 45 days in the session. The average bill passed on day 36 or 37 from 2009 through 2013. This year, that jumped by 2 days, to day 39

The final week was more chaotic

The final two days of the legislative session were particularly crazy this year. Of the 484 bills passed by the Legislature this year, almost half (45%) received their final vote during the session’s final two days. The final two days have always been busy, of course. The table below shows that it’s routine for more than one-third of bills to receive their final vote so late. But this year nevertheless saw a distinct rise.

Year Total bills passed Bills passed in last 2 days % passed in last 2 days
2007 423 153 36%
2008 436 150 34%
2009 518 189 36%
2010 481 168 35%
2011 504 195 39%
2012 478 183 38%
2013 524 203 39%
2014 484 217 45%

Wrapping up

Clearly, something caused the Legislature to fall behind in its bill processing this year. The typical bill had its first vote much later in the session than in the past, and a much larger share of bills than usual received their final approval in the session’s last two days. I worry that legislators found themselves forced to vote on bills that they had not had adequate time to read or discuss.

It seems likely that the revised legislative calendar is the cause. If canceling standing committee hearings had the desired effect of getting the budget done in a more timely manner, without the usual last-minute late-night negotiations, then maybe this was an appropriate trade-off. But if the last week still saw budget negotiations stretching into the session’s final minutes, then maybe revising the calendar wasn’t worth the cost.

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Did changing the calendar create a major crunch day in the Legislature?

Legislators can either rush bills through the process with minimal debate in order to clear the backlog, or they can take a more methodical pace even if it means some good bills don’t get to come to a vote before midnight.

Today Utah legislators will put in exhausting hours as they race to complete their business before midnight, the constitutionally-mandated end of the annual legislative session. They’ll do so with an immense number of bills left to consider.

There have been 784 bills and resolutions introduced so far during the 2014 session. That number may rise slightly today, but it’s already a substantial increase from the 738 bills as of a couple weeks ago, which was already being declared an all-time high.

Yet the Legislature has passed only 325 bills so far. That doesn’t mean they’ve voted down hundreds of bills; in fact, the Legislature hardly ever votes down a bill (see also here and here). Rather, it means they just haven’t had enough time to process all those bills. Hundreds of bills remain on the docket.

By contrast, here’s how many bills had been passed by the second-to-last day of the session (i.e. yesterday evening) in the past few years:

Year Bills passed by second-to-last day
2009 506
2010 420
2011 449
2012 423
2013 467
2014 325

Let’s look at it another way. The chart below shows the total number of bills passed by day of session. Day of session ranges from 1 through 46. (You’re probably thinking that the Utah Constitution establishes a 45 day session; that’s correct, but with President’s Day thrown in the middle as a non-counted day, that means 46 days pass from start to finish.) We have yet to see how sharply the line for 2014 will rise on the last day; for now, the chart just shows it leveling off.

Total bills passed, day by day

What changed in 2014?

It’s clear that 2014 has lagged all session long. What gives? I can think of two possible explanations.

First, it’s possible that legislators have decided to spend more time considering each bill, allowing bills to spend more time in committee and more time in floor debate before coming to a vote. There has been a trend in recent years toward passing bills faster and faster (see here for analysis and here for raw statistics), so a reversal might indicate more careful vetting before passing legislation.

Second, it might just reflect a calendaring change. In past years, the Legislature would start holding standing committee meetings right at the beginning of the session. Those committees would begin working on bills and reporting them to the floor for votes right away. But that changed this year. Standing committees did not meet until the second week of session. This change allowed appropriations committees to spend more time on the budget during the first week, in hopes that the budget could be finalized earlier in the session than has been the case in the past. But this change may also have put the Legislature far behind schedule on routine bills.

I think the second explanation is more likely than the first. I’ll have data to test my hunch in a couple weeks.

What will the Legislature do today?

With an immense number of bills remaining on the docket, legislators have two choices: Legislators can either rush bills through the process with minimal debate in order to clear the backlog, or they can take a more methodical pace even if it means some good bills don’t get to come to a vote before midnight.

As noted above, the trend in recent years has been toward rushing bills through the process faster and faster, resulting in less and less time for vetting. If the revised legislative calendar has resulted in improved vetting of the budget by appropriations committees, that’s good. But if it results in less careful vetting of routine bills, that might not be good.

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How busy has the Legislature been so far?

Today the Tribune quotes Sen. John Valentine reporting that the Legislature has introduced a record high number of bills so far, but that it has passed a record low number. I thought I’d give some additional numbers for perspective.

Sen. Valentine says that as of last Friday (the end of the fifth week of the seven-week session), legislators had introduced 738 bills (a “historic high” for the fifth week) and passed only 138 (“tied with 2007″ for the record low for the fifth week).

My data stretch back only to 2007, and it appears that Sen. Valentine must count bills differently than I do, since 738 isn’t even close to a “historic high” in my data; there were 765 bills by the fifth week of the 2009 session, for example. (My guess is that Valentine isn’t including resolutions in his count; I do.)

Here’s how it’s looked each year since 2007:

Year Introduced (in first 5 weeks) Passed (in first 5 weeks)
2007 717 140
2008 723 164
2009 765 184
2010 679 163
2011 704 159
2012 708 159
2013 687 169
2014 738 (from Trib) 138 (from Trib)

This might just be a methodological difference, though. I include both bills and resolutions in my totals, and it’s possible that Senator Valentine is counting only bills (omitting resolutions).

You can find lots more bill statistics for the Utah Legislature here.

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