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.

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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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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Who is a Better Filter, Caucus Attendees or Primary Voters?

Every system requires trade-offs between competing values.  But we ought not to pretend that one set of filters has virtues that are simply not present. 

In a previous post, I examined the relationship between attitudes in the public and support for the Count My Vote initiative.  That post showed that support for the reform was strong across all groups except for one: those who are the most conservative and consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party.  Even half of all strong Republicans support the reform.  Opposition is confined to a specific group within the Republican Party.

That kind of argument does not matter to some.  They base their argument not on what large segments of the public want but on ideas about how the political system functions.  That is fair.  Arguments about the proper political system do not start and end with public opinion.  Indeed, many of the arguments, such as the one promoted by Paul Mero, rest on the method by which public opinion gets filtered.

As he so eloquently states, “we have to find nonintrusive ways to filter the negative impact of irresponsible citizenship – irresponsible meaning single-issue voters, special-interest parasites, and uninformed citizens who think and vote based on selfish emotions. Utah’s caucus and convention system is that filter. And it works.”

Mero’s political system looks like Model 1.  In this case delegates selected at the neighborhood caucuses provide the filter between public opinion and the nomination.

Model 1

Model 2 is the system proposed by the Count My Vote initiative.  In this case, those who participate in the primary system provide the filter between public opinion and the nomination.

Model 2
The soundness of Mero’s argument rests on the quality of the filter.  According to him, primary voters are “single-issue voters, special interest parasites, and uninformed citizens who think and vote on selfish emotions.”

These are empirical questions.   One easily tested proposition is that those who are most likely to attend a caucus or convention are more informed than those who are less likely to attend.  In the previous post, we showed that those who were most supportive of the neighborhood caucus system were strong conservatives who identified with the Republican party.

Just after the caucuses in 2012, my colleagues and I asked participants in the Utah Voter Poll whether or not they attended their neighborhood caucus meetings.  This question allows us to examine whether self-reported caucus participants are better educated or more knowledgeable than non-participants.  (The Utah Voter Poll is a sample of voters only, so those who do not participate in Utah politics in any way are excluded.)

With respect to education, in our sample both caucus attenders and non-attending voters are highly educated – on average, they have had some college-level schooling.  To illustrate this point, below is a figure showing the average education levels of our two groups on a 6-point education scale ranging from some high school or less all the way to post-graduate education.  There is essentially no difference between the two groups.  The average education level for self-reported caucus attenders is 4.14 (which is the equivalent of having some college), and the average education for those who are less likely to attend caucuses is 3.92.  The difference between those averages is not statistically significant in our sample.

Average Education Levels of Caucus and Non-Caucus Attenders
But what about levels of knowledge about Utah or national politics? Do those who actually attend the caucuses know more about the political system?  To answer that question, I took advantage of the fact that the Utah Voter Poll is a panel of voters, many of whom have answered our survey questions at several different points in time. In March of 2013, my colleagues and I asked respondents to our Utah Voter Poll a series of simple factual questions about state and national politics.  (See my colleague Adam Brown’s discussion of the questions and the results here). We matched the survey responses from 2012 about caucus attendance with those same individuals’ 2013 responses to the knowledge questions.  In all, we have over 200 Utah voters who answered both the caucus attendance question and the knowledge questions.

As the figure below shows, caucus attenders appear to be slightly more knowledgeable than non-attenders, but the differences are small and not statistically significant.  (In other words, we cannot be sure that the difference between the two groups is greater than zero.)  The figure below compares the average number of knowledge questions self-reported caucus attenders got right with the average for those who did not attend.  The brackets show the 95% confidence interval for each average.  Individuals who attend the caucus do not have all that much more political knowledge than individuals who do not attend.

Average Knowledge Scores for Caucus and Non-Caucus Attenders
The other thing to remember is that the primary electorate includes the caucus attenders, and when we account for that fact, the already small gap shown above narrows even more.  In other words, it does not appear that one group is highly knowledgeable, while the other group is ignorant of Utah or national politics.  In fact, the far more noticeable trend is that knowledge of Utah politics is low among both groups.  Of the four questions about Utah politics we asked, both caucus attenders and non-attenders got about half right and half wrong, on average.  Both groups did much better in answering the six questions about national politics, where the average was 70% to 80% correct.

Thus, it does not appear that education or political knowledge are the defining factors that separate caucus attenders from non-attenders.  The difference between these two groups is not levels of information, but rather ideology:  research from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy shows that caucus attenders and delegates are much more ideological, even after controlling for knowledge, gender, income, etc.  This result is true in Utah and nationally.

The profound differences in ideology can be seen in the figure below, which shows the proportion of Republican caucus attenders and non-attenders in Utah who identify as strong conservatives.  (This analysis also focuses on the UVP respondents who answered both the caucus and the knowledge questions, but this time, we zero in on Republicans because Democrats have a different ideological mix.)  Fully 50 percent of Republican caucus attenders describe themselves as  “strongly conservative,” compared to about 30 percent of non-attenders, who tend to be more moderate.  And unlike the relatively small knowledge differences, this 20-point difference in ideology is statistically significant.  (In other words, we are very confident that the difference is not zero.)


Some advocates of the caucus system would say that this ideological difference is a good thing: perhaps the strongest conservatives should choose the Republican nominee.  But that is a very different argument than the one Paul Mero articulates above.  And having a nomination system that privileges the most intense ideologues also has a downside: it essentially means that those who choose the candidates in a caucus system tend to wear thick ideological lenses as they view and assess the candidates.  Such lenses often lead to what social scientists call “motivated reasoning,” a phenomenon where individuals’ choices are dictated primarily by their ideological dispositions.

I grant that no nomination system – no filter between public opinion and nominations – is perfect.  Every system requires trade-offs between competing values.  But we ought not to pretend that one set of filters has virtues that are simply not present.  As Utahns make their choices about the process, they should be fully cognizant of what they specifically gain and lose when they make the nomination process dependent on this particular group of individuals.

About Kelly Patterson: Kelly Patterson is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a former director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

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On Count My Vote, Who is Toeing the Party Line?

Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.

Utahns might have the opportunity to reform the caucus/convention system if the proponents of Count My Vote  can qualify the initiative for the ballot.  In November of 2013, researchers at CSED fielded a Utah Voter Poll (UVP) and asked several questions about support for the initiative and reasons for the support.

The poll contains good news for Count My Vote proponents — 64% of UVP respondents favored moving to a primary system. The UVP panel is recruited from actual Utah voters and so this result reflects the current view of those individuals who are likely to vote in November 2014.  Only 9% answered “don’t know,” a relatively small proportion for an initiative a full year before election day.1

Support for Initiative

Question Wording: A proposed initiative seeks to change our electoral system so that Utahns “select political party nominees through a direct vote of the people in a regular primary election.”  Currently, Utah’s system for choosing nominees includes neighborhood caucuses and a state party convention, where party members can meet to discuss the candidates and choose a nominee.   In regards to Utah’s electoral system, which of the following comes closer to your views?

The debate over reform has a clear ideological dimension. In one of the best books written on the politics of reform, The Limits of Electoral Reform, Shaun Bowler and Todd Donavan argue that reform politics have an identifiable dynamic.  Those proposing reforms normally disrupt the qualities of a political system, a fact that results in some counter-mobilization.  The subsequent campaign provides information by which voters recognize whether or not their specific interest may be harmed by the change.  Consequently, support for reforms vary by partisan and ideological interests.

This dynamic of partisan and ideological factions identifying and favoring their political self-interest emerges when we examine support for the reform by party identification.  Only a majority of two categories express support for the status quo: those who identify as strong Republicans and those who identify with some third party.  Most interestingly, the battle is quite close among the strong Republicans, with only a bare majority expressing support.  Otherwise, most all other identifiers support the reform.

Support for Initiative by PID

What this means for Utah is that conservatives are counter-mobilizing to attempt to defeat Count My Vote because they want to preserve their control over the Republican Party and thus over Utah’s one-party system.

Ideology tells essentially the same story.  Only one group among the five ideological categories wants the status quo: those who identify as strongly conservative.  Support for the reform emerges abruptly as the scale moves from right to left.  Individuals who are moderately conservative overwhelmingly support the reform.

Support for Initiative by Ideology

The group that stands to benefit the most—or at least the one that seems to oppose the reform—actively supports the Tea Party.  Individuals who consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party, only 12% of the November 2013 UVP sample, overwhelmingly oppose the reform.  Almost 80% of the 88% percent of Utah voters who do not consider themselves Tea Party supporters favor the reform.

Support for Initiative by Tea Party Support

Together, the figures on party identification, ideology, and Tea Party support suggest that it is one particular segment of the Republican Party that opposes reform.  To test this idea on many of the possible predictors of favoring or opposing reform simultaneously, I use regression analysis.  Logistic regression is an appropriate method of analysis when the question of interest has two categories.  In addition to party identification, ideology, and active Tea Party support, I also include several other variables or predictors as statistical controls.  These include gender, income, education, and age.

The model indicates that when controlling for multiple possible predictors at the same time, party identification does not matter.2 However, ideology and being an active supporter of the Tea Party do.

The graph below shows the probabilities for different categories of ideology.  The probabilities are estimated holding all of the other variables constant at their average.
The line shows just how steep the decline is across ideology.  As individuals become less conservative, the probability of opposing the reform drops to almost zero.   Importantly, for all categories except “strongly conservative,” the probability of opposing the reform effort is well below 50 percent.

Probability Figure for Ideology

A similar effect occurs for Tea Party support.  As an individual moves from not actively supporting to actively supporting the Tea Party, the probability of opposing the reform increases by almost 30 percentage points.

These findings raise an interesting question: Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.  If parties are the vehicles to aggregate and channel opinion to elected officials, the Republican Party seems only to be listening to one part of its party: those who are active supporters of the Tea Party and strongly conservative.

Strong Republicans make up 39% of self-identified Republicans, and only about half of the strong republicans say they are strongly conservative.  This means you can be a strong republican and not strongly conservative.  There are lots of individuals who are both Republican and conservative who support the reform, contrary to what the Party is actually doing.

This mismatch between what some party officials are doing and what the rank-and-file wants raises intriguing questions about the issue of representation, deliberation, and voter sophistication—all issues that I will explore in another post soon.


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Does it matter that the Utah Senate votes twice on each bill?

There’s an odd thing about the Utah Legislature. The Utah House holds only one debate and vote on each bill, but the Utah Senate holds two debates and two votes on each bill.1

Let’s ask three questions about the Senate’s practice of voting twice on bills. First, does it cause Senators to skip the first vote, knowing they’ll have a chance to vote on the bill later? (It does, a little.) Second, do Senators just vote the same way both times they see a bill, or do we see real differences between the two voting outcomes? (They vote the same both times.) Third, do Senators seem to care about the requirement to hold two votes on each bill, or do they routinely waive this requirement? (They waive it almost half the time.) I’ve already told you the conclusions, so let’s dive in.

About the data (technical information)

I’ve got data on every floor vote held in the Utah Legislature from 2007 through 2013. (You’ll find lots of analysis of the voting data here.) To answer my first two questions, I look only at bills that did indeed undergo two floor votes.2

The Senate calls the first vote the “2nd reading” and the second vote the “3rd reading.” To avoid confusion, I will refer to them here as the first vote and second vote. (In the footnotes, which are more technical, I use “2nd reading” and “3rd reading.”)

Are Senators more likely to miss the first vote on a bill?

Yes. On average, 3.7% of Senators miss the first vote on a bill, but only 2.8% miss the second vote. Given that there are 29 Senators, that translates to one additional Senator on the floor during a bill’s second Senate vote. If you want more detail, you can see a post on this topic I wrote a couple years ago.

Do outcomes change much between the first and second vote on a bill?

Not really. Almost three-quarters (72%) of bills get the exact same vote margin on both Senate votes. (By margin, I mean the number of “ayes” as a percentage of the number of non-absent Senators, so the margin ranges from 0 to 100.) With the remaining 28% of bills, there is a bit of wobble but no clear trend; 14% do better on their second vote, but 14% do worse.

Most of the movement is trivial; with 93% of bills, the margin on the second vote is within 10 percentage points of the margin on the first vote. (To see how trivial a 10 percentage point movement is, read this.)

Here’s the most striking part, though: Although I identified a few dozen bills that failed on their first vote, I could not identify a single bill that failed on its second vote after having passed its first one. If the Utah Senate approves a bill on its first vote, you can be all but assured that the bill’s ultimate passage is a done deal.

Do Senators value the second reading calendar?

You’d have to ask them. The answer probably varies. But their behavior suggests that, at least as a body, Utah Senators aren’t particularly fond of the (self-imposed) requirement to hold two separate floor votes on each bill. From 2007-2013, Utah’s Senators waived this requirement for 43% of the bills they heard–sometimes by using the consent calendar process3, but more often by approving a motion to suspend the rules for a particular bill.4

Wrapping up

Utah Senators are (somewhat) more likely to miss a bill’s first vote than its second. Utah Senators have never (in the 2007 through 2013 general sessions) reversed their decision during a bill’s second vote. And Utah Senators routinely waive the requirement to vote twice on each bill, a decision that must be made on a bill-by-bill basis.

What purpose does the Senate’s two-vote requirement serve, then? I can think of one possibility that my dataset does not enable me to address.  When Senators like the general concept of a bill but have some nitpicky concerns, they often vote “aye on two” rather than simply “aye” during the bill’s first vote. “Aye on two” signals to the bill’s sponsor that a particular Senator will vote “nay” when the bill comes back for a final vote unless the bill receives some improvements.

Maybe “aye on two” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; the Senate never reverses itself during a final vote because Senators who care about getting their bills passed heed the “aye on two” warning and improve their bills before bringing them back. Unfortunately, official Senate records note only “aye” and “nay”; an “aye on two” vote gets recorded as an “aye.” As such, I can’t really test this hypothesis.

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Support for gay marriage is up by 20% in Utah? Not so fast.

It may be the case that the 20% “shift” in support was really a reflection of different question wordings and sample frames.

A year and a half ago, my colleagues posted these polling results showing that 28% of Utah voters support same-sex marriage (as of mid-2012). A few days ago, the Salt Lake Tribune published its own poll showing what appears to be a huge shift: 48% of Utahns supporting same-sex marriage. There is no doubt that Utahns’ support for same-sex marriage is growing (see here), but twenty percentage points? That’s a tremendous shift in a short time.

I have no quibbles with either poll, but be careful before comparing them too hastily. They differ in two key ways. First, the BYU poll sampled Utah voters, while the Tribune poll sampled Utah adults; those are different populations, and they will produce different results. Second, the two polls used different question wording, which can have large effects. Neither poll has a “better” wording or sampling frame; they are just different, and they produce a different look at public opinion in Utah.

You can read a much more detailed analysis of these two points in this post from Scott Riding at Y2 Analytics. (Disclosure: Scott is my former student, and two of my colleagues are closely involved with Y2 Analytics, though I am not.) Scott also reports the results of a new Y2 Analytics poll that replicates the BYU poll’s question wording and sampling method; the new poll does not find much movement. So it may be the case that the 20% “shift” in support was really a reflection of different question wordings and sample frames.

To illustrate the question wording effect, let’s look at two questions within the Tribune poll. Both asked about roughly the same thing, but they got different results. First, the Tribune asked this: “Should same-sex couples in Utah be allowed to form civil unions or domestic partnerships?” 25% said no. Later, they asked this: “Do you support or do you oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships?” 37% opposed.

Let’s think this through. 37 is 12 higher than 25. So apparently 12% of Utah adults oppose any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, yet they support civil unions or domestic partnerships. That makes no sense at all. This doesn’t mean that 12% of respondents are daft. It means that question wording can influence results, sometimes significantly.

Let me stress that I’m not taking sides whether the Tribune poll or the BYU/CSED poll is better. They both seem good to me. But they use different questions and samples, so we need to be careful when comparing them and identifying trends.

If you didn’t click that link to Scott’s post earlier, you should do it now. He has much more to add–especially the results of an additional (recent) poll.

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Do I Mistrust this Poll? Let Me Count the Ways…

This post was jointly written by Quin Monson and Kelly Patterson.

Recently, the Libertas Institute posted a “survey” on their web site purporting to measure how Utah voters feel about a possible statewide anti-discrimination law to protect gay and transgender Utahns against housing and employment discrimination.

The survey has many issues that cast serious doubt on the validity of the results.  Here is a brief summary of some of the problems.

1. The questions are unbalanced and inaccurate.  For example, the two questions about an anti-discrimination law contain references to “jail time.”  However, jail time is not part of anyone’s anti-dicrimination ordinance or law.  What Libertas calls “contextualized” simply means asking loaded questions by introducing the threat of a non-existent punishment.

In addition to inaccurate questions about anti-discrimination, the question order is a serious concern.  The relevant questions are preceded by questions about free association and religion.  This order effectively biases the survey participants by having them consider reasons why they would not want a law right before they are asked about a possible law.

2.  The robocall methodology used by Libertas is not methodologically sound.  Robocalls cannot obtain a valid representative sample of any population of interest because they have no way to select or ask for a respondent within the household they are calling.  Many valid surveys ask for a respondent by name from a list.  Or, if the poll is conducted on a random list of phone numbers, a method is employed to select a person at random within the household.  For example, many pollsters ask to speak to the person who celebrated the most recent birthday. This poll could have been answered by someone’s 14 year old, and they would never know. The survey is supposed to represent voters, but this is virtually impossible to verify.  The poll contains no gender question.  Because they take whomever answers the phone, it is likely that the respondents are disproportionately female.  Voters in Utah are evenly split 50/50 between men and women.   Finally, a heavy proportion (37%) of the respondents are over 60 years old.  This too is disproportionately high.

3.  The survey also has some serious ethical and possible legal problems.  One serious issue is that they posted a data file on their web site that includes the actual phone numbers of the people they called.  This is a huge violation of trust.  The American Association of Public Opinion Research follows a code of professional ethics that you can find here. The relevant part that this survey violates says, “Unless the respondent explicitly waives confidentiality for specified uses, we shall hold as privileged and confidential all information that could be used, alone or in combination with other reasonably available information, to identify a respondent with his or her responses. We also shall not disclose or use the names of respondents or any other personally-identifying information for non-research purposes unless the respondents grant us permission to do so.”  They did not release the full script of the robocall, but we are guessing that they did not tell participants that they would be releasing their phone numbers publicly.  This would have led many people to hang up on the call and would make many of the existing respondents very angry.

We are also worried that they robocalled cell phones.  If so, this is actually illegal under federal law.  They could be in serious trouble if someone filed a complaint.

In their write up of the “survey,” Libertas claims that “These results validate our initial theory…”  Unfortunately, good social science does not validate theories, it simply rejects null hypotheses at certain levels of confidence.  We have no confidence in this survey.

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What kind of Republican is Spencer Cox?

Spencer Cox is about as run-of-the-mill of a Republican as Utah can produce.

Governor Gary Herbert has nominated Spencer Cox to replace Greg Bell as Utah’s new Lieutenant Governor. Few outside the Legislature had heard Cox’s name before the governor’s announcement. Even within the Legislature, few knew his name before he began his legislative service less than one year ago.

Today the Legislature will consider the governor’s nomination and, in all likelihood, confirm him as Utah’s new Lieutenant Governor. The Tribune ran a good biographical profile of Cox today. I thought I would add a quick look at his Legislative voting record.

Because Cox served in the Utah House, we can use voting records to get a feel for what type of political ideology Cox might espouse. Using all the “ayes” and “nays” cast in the Legislature, we can apply a well-tested method to line up all the legislators from most liberal to most conservative. (You can read more about how these scores work here.)

On a scale from -100 (more liberal) to +100 (more conservative), Spencer Cox rates a +28.4. This places him almost exactly at the center of the House Republican caucus. For House Republicans, the average (mean) score was +28.7, and the median was +27.4. Cox’s voting record makes him most similar to Brad Dee (House Majority Leader), followed by Mike McKell (Cox’s brother-in-law) and Dean Sanpei (House Rules Chair). Indeed, Cox’s record is almost indistinguishable from any of these Representatives.

The chart below gives another way of considering how Cox’s voting ideology lines up with other legislators. I grouped ideology scores for the 75 Representatives who served in 2013 into bins 10 units wide (the left column in the table below). In the right column, I wrote one “D” or “R” for each legislator within each bin. For example, there were three Democratic Representatives with scores between -100 and -90, hence the “DDD” in the right column. Cox’s score is highlighted in red, in the politically safe area near the center of the House Republicans.

Bin Legislators
-100 to -90 DDD
-90.1 to -80 DDDD
-80.1 to -70 DDDDDD
-70.1 to -60 D
-60.1 to -50
-50.1 to -40
-40.1 to -30
-30.1 to -20 RRR
-20.1 to -10 R
-10.1 to 0 RRRRR
0.1 to 10 RRRRRRR
10.1 to 20 RRRRRRRRRR
20.1 to 30 RRRRRRRR
30.1 to 40 RRRRRR
40.1 to 50 RRRRRRRRR
50.1 to 60 R
60.1 to 70 RRRRRR
70.1 to 80 R
80.1 to 90 RRRR
90.1 to 100

What do we conclude? From his legislative voting record, it seems Spencer Cox is about as run-of-the-mill of a Republican as Utah can produce. Voters have no more reason to love or fear him than they would any typical Utah Republican official.

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New ideology ratings for the Utah Legislature

Two years ago I released ideology scores for each Utah legislator who served between 2007 and 2011. Today I’m releasing an update that extends the scores through 2013. (Thanks to my research assistant, Justin Chang, for invaluable help.) I’ve written in more detail about the methodology behind the scores in the past.

Please take a moment to understand the origins and limitations of these ideology scores.

  • I use the W-NOMINATE algorithm, originally developed to study the U.S. Congress, and widely used among political scientists for that purpose.
  • The W-NOMINATE algorithm takes account of every vote cast on the floor of the Utah House or Utah Senate.
  • Scores are relative. That means there is no score that means “liberal” or “conservative.” A score of +43 or -21 means nothing by itself. But a legislator with a score of +43 is relatively more conservative than a legislator with a score of +38, who is, in turn, relatively more conservative than a legislator with a score of -4. Higher scores are relatively more conservative than lower scores.
  • Scores are placed on an artificial score ranging from -100 (more liberal) to +100 (more conservative), but a score below 0 does not mean “liberal,” just as a score above 0 does not mean “conservative.” Rather, because scores are relative within the Legislature itself, then 0 simply indicates the legislator at the ideological center of his/her chamber. Because the Legislature is over 80% Republican, the 0 point will almost certainly be occupied by a Republican.
  • Scores are comparable only within a single chamber, and only within a single year. You cannot compare a House score to a Senate score, or a 2008 score to a 2012 score. Why? Because the scores are relative within each chamber and year. Even if every legislator, Republican or Democratic, moved dramatically to the between year X and year Y, the scores would still be forced by the W-NOMINATE algorithm to fall between -100 and +100 each year.

The complete scores are available on my personal website. You can start here: House (2013) and Senate (2013).

I’ll post some followups in coming days making use of these scores. The main purpose of this post is just to explain how the scores work so that I have something to link to when future posts make use of them.

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Senator Lee and the Shutdown

Lee has overwhelming support from the quarter of the population that doesn’t reject the Tea Party.  But the three-quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion.

Senator Mike Lee has received considerable attention nationally, within Utah, and even among his fellow U.S. Senators for his role with Senator Ted Cruz in executing a strategy to defund the Affordable Care Act (widely known as Obamacare).  The tension continues to rise with the government shutdown and the possibility that this will lead to a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

So what do Utahns think about all of this?  Who views Senator Lee’s work favorably or unfavorably? And how does this all compare with the recent past?  The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU just completed another Utah Voter Poll that allows us to answer these and other questions.

We asked respondents to choose between whether “Senator Mike Lee should stand by his principles, even when the result is a government shutdown” or “Senator Mike Lee should be more willing to compromise, even if that means passing a budget with funding for the Affordable Care Act.”

Lee Figure 1

First of all, 57% of Utahns overall would like Senator Lee to be “more willing to compromise” versus 43% who prefer that he “stand by his principles.” That result is not possible in Republican-dominated Utah without at least some Republicans preferring compromise.  In fact, 38% of all self-identified Republicans prefer that Lee compromise compared to 99% of all Democrats.  Independents side heavily with compromise at 65%.

A look at this question by active support for the Tea Party support yields absolutely stunning conclusions.  Among the 13% of respondents who identify as active Tea Party supporters, 90% say that Lee should stick to his principles and not compromise.  Among those who say they are not active supporters (74% of the sample), 73% say he should compromise.

The 13% who answer “Don’t Know” to the Tea Party question are also interesting.  Of this group, 80% say stick to his principles, 20% say compromise.  Those answering “Don’t Know” appear to be Tea Partiers hiding in the “Don’t Know” response option.

All told, then, Lee has overwhelming support from the quarter of the population that doesn’t reject the Tea Party.  But the three-quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion.

But here’s the further complication:  among those who identify as Republicans but do not support the Tea Party, the split is 51/49 in favor of compromise.  Recall, that among all Republicans (Tea Party supporters or not), support for “standing by his principles” is very strong — 62/38.

So, how vulnerable is Lee because of his tactics on Obamacare and the shutdown?  On this issue he has near total support from the Tea Party and about half of the non-Tea Party affiliated Republicans.  He has generated some opposition within his own party because of his actions, but on balance and buoyed by the overwhelming support for Tea Partiers, his tactics in the budget fight still enjoy the support of most Republicans.

That said, Lee’s stance has carried over into his favorability ratings.  Compared to our June 2013 Utah Voter Poll, Senator Lee’s favorability fortunes have reversed course.  In October the favorability to unfavorability ratio is 40/51 while back in June 2013 it was 50/41.  More Utah voters now have an unfavorable impression of him.

Lee Figure 2

To put Lee’s current favorability numbers in the proper context, we’ve put them side by side with Jim Matheson’s current numbers, after all Matheson’s name always comes up in discussions of statewide elections. Just for fun, we’ve thrown in some favorability numbers for Senator Bob Bennett from the March 2010 Utah Voter Poll.   Matheson’s favorable to unfavorable ratio is 58/36, not great compared to Governor Herbert who is at 71/25 (not shown in the figure), but not bad for a Democrat amidst a sea of Republicans.  Notably, Lee is also now clearly behind the numbers of former Senator Bennett from our March 2010 Utah Voter Poll.

When you break the numbers down into “very” and “somewhat” favorable ratings, you see that Senator Lee is a polarizing figure.  His highest ratings are for “very unfavorable” (40%) followed by “very favorable” 26%.  Lee’s very favorable numbers are also virtually unchanged from June.  The change is from somewhat favorable to very unfavorable. Moderate Republicans who once gave Lee a lukewarm thumbs up are now giving him a strong thumbs down.  Matheson and Bennett, in contrast, are highest on the middle “somewhat” categories.

Lee Figure 3

So how is Senator Lee doing among members of his own party?  Back in June he was a rock star with a 71/22 favorable to unfavorable rating.  That’s now fallen off quite a bit, but it’s still at a respectable 57/33.  Is Senator Lee vulnerable to a challenge from the moderate wing of the Republican Party?  Maybe.  Check out former Senator Bennett’s numbers among Republicans in March 2010.  At 57/38 they look a lot like Lee’s do now.  If Lee draws a strong Republican challenger, it would be difficult to predict the outcome right now.  A lot would depend on who shows up to the caucus meetings and the composition of the delegates.  If the Count My Vote initiative is successful, all bets are off.

Lee Figure 4

A strong general election challenger presents a real danger spot for Senator Lee.  Notice Representative Matheson’s favorability/unfavorability ratio among Republicans statewide are is 52/40.  Matheson doesn’t need a majority of Republican votes to win a statewide election, he just needs between a quarter and a third.  That’s been his recipe for success for the last decade plus in his House elections.  That appears very doable right now.

Lee Figure 5

When the Republican only numbers are examined in more detail, once again Senator Lee’s “very favorable” numbers hold pretty constant from June to October.  The voters that always really like him haven’t changed their minds much and his current stance may simply reinforce those views, but he has driven away a group of voters that he will badly want back if he ever faces a strong challenger.  The difficulty for Democrats is finding a challenger with the capacity to win statewide who is willing to run.  The short list is indeed very short.

Altogether, these results are indicative of the larger difficulty within the Republican Party.  While Senator Lee enjoys intense support from a vocal minority and seems to be representing their perspective very well, he does so at his own peril.  The majority of Utah voters are looking for him to compromise and if he fails to do so, he could face electoral consequences.

Survey Methods

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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