The closest votes in the 2015 Utah Legislature

The Legislature governs by consensus. Most bills pass overwhelmingly, with Democrats and Republicans voting together. But close votes do happen. Because 84% of Utah’s legislators are Republicans, the closest votes arise when Republicans are divided among themselves.

Among other matters, this year’s closest votes dealt with bitcoin (HCR 6), natural gas vehicles (HB 406), anonymous campaign contributions (HB 91), truth in advertising for cosmetic procedures (SB 85), transportation funding (HB 420), car emissions (HB 110), medical marijuana (SB 259), and a constitutional amendment to roll back last year’s Count My Vote compromise (SJR 2).

Below I’ve listed this year’s 20 closest votes in each chamber. Click a bill number to read the bill’s text. Click the vote breakdown to see how individual legislators voted.

The 20 closest votes in the 2015 Utah House

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HCR006S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
SB0250 House/ failed 35-38-2 3
HB0406S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-36-0 3
HJR014 House/ failed 34-38-3 4
SJR001 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-34-3 4
HJR015S02 House/ failed 32-37-6 5
HB0313S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0244 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-33-4 5
HB0011 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0376S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-34-1 6
HB0069S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-33-3 6
SB0033S01 House/ failed 32-39-4 7
SB0033S01 House/ recalled by House 40-33-2 7
SB0150 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-32-4 7
SB0293 House/ failed 31-38-6 7
SB0134S03 House/ passed 3rd reading 41-33-1 8
SB0078 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-31-5 8
HB0447S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-31-4 9
HB0394S02 House/ failed 32-41-2 9
HB0137S01 House/ failed 32-41-2 9

The 20 closest votes in the 2015 Utah Senate

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HB0091S04 Senate/ failed 12-12-5 0
SB0085S02 Senate/ failed 11-12-6 1
HB0420S02 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-14-0 1
HB0110S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-14-0 1
SB0259S04 Senate/ failed 14-15-0 1
SJR002 Senate/ failed 14-15-0 1
SB0208 Senate/ failed 12-14-3 2
SB0072 Senate/ failed 12-14-3 2
HJR007S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-13-1 2
SB0127S01 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0053 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-12-2 3
HB0011 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0259S04 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 16-13-0 3
SB0281S02 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-13-0 3
SB0242 Senate/ passed 2nd reading 15-11-3 4
SB0087 Senate/ failed 12-16-1 4
HB0285S03 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 16-12-1 4
HB0197S01 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 16-12-1 4
SB0207S06 Senate/ substituted from # 2 to # 3 15-10-4 5
HB0360S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-10-4 5

Visit my other site for additional statistics and raw data about the 2015 General Session.

About Adam Brown: Adam Brown is an associate 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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The 2015 Legislature passed 528 bills in 45 days

Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

By the time the Utah Legislature concluded its seven-week General Session last Thursday, legislators had passed 528 bills (including resolutions). I’ve heard people call that a record. It might be. My data go back only to 2007, and it’s clearly a record since then. As you can see in the chart below, this year’s 528 bills and resolutions just barely edge out the 524 enacted two years ago.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

The 2015 Legislature: Bills introduced and passed

Of course, legislators had plenty of additional ideas that didn’t get enacted. Though only 528 items passed, 831 were introduced for consideration. Only 3% of these were actually voted down on the floor. Another 33% never came to a final floor vote–either because they died in committee, or (more often) because they weren’t prioritized for a floor vote before the session ended.

The Utah Constitution limits the Legislature to 45 calendar days of activity. Because legislators do not convene on weekends, they have 33 legislative days in practice. Passing 528 bills in 33 days implies a rate of 16 bills per day.

Legislators didn’t consider 16 bills per day, though. Instead, most bills piled up and were considered rapidly in the session’s final days. In fact, 277 of this year’s enacted bills (that’s 52% of 528) received their final approval during the session’s final week. That’s an incredible amount of legislation to consider in only four days, and it reflects the culmination of a trend toward procrastination. As the next chart shows, Utah’s lawmakers have considered more and more bills during the final week of each year’s General Session.

The 2015 Legislature: 277 bills were passed in the final week

So why do Utah legislators wait until the final week to approve so many bills? Legislators have themselves to blame for this backlog. Up until around 2008, legislators were in the habit of introducing their bills very early in the legislative session, so that bills had plenty of time to work their way through the legislative process. But from 2009-2011, legislators shifted toward introducing their bills later in the session.

You can see this change in the next chart. In 2008, 551 bills (74% of 744 total) were introduced during the first two weeks of the session. In 2015, only 467 bills (56% of 831 total) were introduced within the first two weeks. Though there were 87 more bills introduced in 2015 than 2008 overall, there were 84 fewer introductions within the first two weeks.

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

The 2015 Legislature: Bills were introduced late in the session

When you combine this increased procrastination with the aggregate rise in bills–831 introductions!–you’ve got a recipe for a very busy seventh week.

Visit for additional statistics like those reported here.

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King v. Burwell: What Should Utah Do If the Plaintiffs Win?

Though the public is split on whether the solution should come from Congress or from the state, most Utah voters clearly prefer some sort of action to preserve access to health insurance subsidies.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in King v. Burwell, an important new case related to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This case involves whether or not citizens are eligible for tax credits when they purchase insurance on the federal health insurance exchange. Since the federal exchange began last year, people shopping there have been able to receive tax credits (or in other words, subsidies) to help them purchase insurance if their incomes fall below a certain threshold. The plaintiffs argue that one section of the law prohibits the government from giving citizens tax credits to purchase insurance if they bought their insurance on the exchange established by the federal government, instead of one established directly by the state. They contend that this is what Congress intended as an incentive for states to set up their own insurance exchanges.

The federal government disputes this claim and argues that the lawsuit is simply the work of a small group of very conservative lawyers and activists who are deeply opposed to the law and are now trying to use the courts to stop it instead of making changes through the legislative process. Not surprisingly, the government interprets the law very differently from the plaintiffs, holding that all citizens are eligible receive tax credits, whether they purchased their insurance on the state or federal exchange. Government lawyers and their supporters argue that neither Congress nor the states ever anticipated that subsidies would be prohibited on the federal exchange and that the plaintiffs’ interpretation is nonsensical because it would mean that the federal exchanges would not serve a core element of the law’s intent – making insurance “affordable” for those who purchase it.

Unlike the previous Obamacare cases that appeared before the Supreme Court, this one does not involve a question of the law’s constitutionality. Rather, it is, in some ways, a narrow technical dispute about how the Department of Health and Human Services has interpreted and implemented it. But if the plaintiffs are successful, the lawsuit could have a dramatic and devastating effect on insurance markets in states across the nation. The government and several health care analysts argue that prohibiting subsidies in states that chose to use the federal exchange will destabilize insurance markets and substantially increase the costs of health care for millions of Americans who have been benefitting from federal subsidies. Citizens in states that chose to establish their own exchanges would, however, continue to receive access to subsidies.

Why does any of this matter to Utah? Because like 33 other states, Utah elected not to set up its own exchange, relying instead on the federal alternative. Analysts from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimate that if the lawsuit is successful, about 127,000 Utahns would lose access to assistance to help pay for their insurance. This would represent a loss of about $630 million in federal aid and, by another estimate, would likely increase insurance costs by about 289% for Utahns currently receiving aid. What’s more, even Utahns who do not currently benefit from tax credits may see their insurance costs go up as those who were receiving subsidies drop out of the insurance pool.

If the King v. Burwell lawsuit is successful, Utahns and their representatives in the state legislature and in Congress will face a difficult choice. Will members of Congress take action to restore access to health insurance tax credits for those on the federal exchange? Will Utah establish a state exchange? Or will representatives do nothing in the hopes that Obamacare will wither and ultimately die?

Already, Orrin Hatch and several others have argued that Congress should use the opportunity to fundamentally change the system established by the Affordable Care Act. Hatch’s plan was outlined in broad terms in The Washington Post on Sunday and involves retaining insurance subsidies for a transitional period of time, then ushering in more dramatic changes to the system later. But it is unclear whether Congress and President Obama would agree on substantial changes or even whether Republican members of Congress could coalesce around a single proposal.

The choice to establish a state exchange is also fraught with difficulty. When the law was first passed, states could receive grants from the federal government to help establish their own exchange, but that assistance is no longer available, nor is it clear that the state could act quickly enough to prevent some Utahns from losing subsidies. And as the recent debates about Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan have made clear, it is not at all obvious that the state legislature would want to do anything that could be interpreted as supporting Obamacare, even if that means some Utahns have less access to health care coverage. Of course, doing nothing is a good way to underscore opposition to Obamacare, but it would leave substantial numbers of Utahns without needed support. None of the alternatives, then, would come without challenges and costs.

What do voters in Utah think about these options? Shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear King v. Burwell, we asked participants in our November 2014 Utah Voter Poll what they thought should happen if the plaintiffs win the lawsuit. We gave respondents to the survey some basic background on the case (full question wording available here), then presented them with four alternatives:

  1. “Utah should establish its own exchange so that qualifying citizens can receive tax credits for purchasing insurance”;
  2. “Utah should encourage Congress to fix the law so that qualifying citizens in states that use the federal exchange can receive tax credits, too”;
  3. “Utah should not do anything, even if that means the cost of health insurance will increase for Utahns who currently receive tax credits, because Utah should not support programs like the Affordable Care Act”;
  4. Don’t Know.

Notably, these four alternatives are about the narrow issue of tax credits, not about whether Congress should fundamentally re-think the Affordable Care Act. At the time of the survey, other alternatives like a temporary extension of subsidies had not yet been proposed. Nor was our purpose to ask Utahns how the Supreme Court should rule (a topic about which partisans have very different opinions). Our aim, instead, was to explore Utahns’ preferences in response to a win for the plaintiffs: would voters prefer a congressional fix, a state exchange, or complete resistance to anything associated with Obamacare?

When faced with those choices, most Utahns preferred some sort of action, though no single alternative received majority support. As can be seen in Figure 1, the largest proportion of survey respondents – about 40% — preferred that Congress act to ensure that consumers on the federal exchange receive tax credits. The next largest group – a little more than 28% — wanted Utah to establish its own exchange. Just over 20% expressed a preference for doing nothing, and another 10% didn’t know. Thus, nearly 70% wanted either federal or state representatives to take action of some sort, though some wanted Congress to take responsibility and others preferred a state-level solution.

Figure 1: Preferred Options, All Voters

Figure 1: Preferred Options, All Voters

Not surprisingly, the distribution of opinion differed by political party, though these differences are perhaps not as profound or as polarized as the debate about health care has been. The basic results can be seen in Figure 2. The biggest differences across the parties concern the “do nothing” option. Less than 1% of Democrats wanted to do nothing, compared to 18% of independents and 28% of Republicans. More than 90% of Democrats preferred state or federal action (with most Democrats wanting Congress to fix the problem). Among independents, more preferred a state-level solution to a congressional fix, but still, almost 75% expressed support for something other than doing nothing. While a substantial minority of Republicans wanted to do nothing, most expressed support for either federal (38%) or state (22%) action. In other words, in the face of a victory for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, just short of 60% of Republicans in conservative Utah prefer that either the state or the national government intervene to safeguard Utahns’ access to health insurance subsidies … and most of that group preferred a congressional solution.

Figure 2: Preferred Options, by Party Identification

Figure 2: Preferred Options, by Party Identification

In fact, the only group that prefers inaction to action on this issue includes those who say they are active supporters of the Tea Party (63%). But this is a minority group among Utah voters – in our survey, which parallels the electorate in 2012 and 2014, Tea Partiers represent only about 14% of all respondents. In other words, should the state’s elected officials decide to do nothing, they will be supporting the strong wishes of a vocal but still relatively small group of voters.

It is important to remember, of course, that we asked this question back in November, before public attention had focused much on the case. And it is quite possible that as Republicans put forward more concrete plans for what to do about health care, more Utahns will gravitate toward alternatives beyond the four we provided to our survey respondents. This was merely an initial attempt to explore the views of Utah voters on this issue. But the results also show that even in a deeply red state, the politics of this issue are not easy for lawmakers, especially Republicans who have opposed Obamacare. Neither a majority of voters nor a majority of Republicans favors limiting Utahns’ ability to receive federal tax credits.  Though the public is split on whether the solution should come from Congress or from the state, most Utah voters clearly prefer some sort of action to preserve access to health insurance subsidies.

Polling Details

The poll that included these questions, fielded by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, was administered online to a representative sample of Utahns who voted in at least one even-year general election from 2004-2012. The poll was in the field from November 14-23, 2014. Exact question wordings, along with details about sampling, response rates, and weighting, are available at the Utah Voter Poll website.

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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Utahns like Herbert and non-discrimination; they don’t like Senators and clocks

Utahns overwhelmingly support “a statewide law to protect Utahns against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” with 72% in favor

Newly released polling data shows that Utahns approval strongly of Gary Herbert’s performance as governor (74% approve, 26% disapprove) and tepidly of the Utah Legislature’s performance (56% approve, 44% disapprove).

Little support for US Senators

Both of Utah’s US Senators are underwater in their favorability ratings. Orrin Hatch, who once declared his intention not to seek reelection in 2018, draws 44% favorable against 53% unfavorable (3% undecided). Though he later hinted that he might reconsider his pledge to retire, these numbers suggest that Utahns aren’t clamoring for him to remain indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Mike Lee draws 45% favorable against 48% unfavorable (7% undecided). This represents a slight decline since October (50% favorable), though Mike Lee remains stronger than he was in the wake of the 2013 shutdown (40% favorable). These movements exceed this poll’s 2.5% margin of error.

Of course, Utah’s statewide officials generally worry more about Republican renomination than about general elections. Mike Lee’s favorability is higher among self-identified Republicans (68% favorable, 27% unfavorable), and much higher among “strong Republicans” (80% favorable, 17% unfavorable). If Republican nomination rules favor the most devoted Republican voters in 2016, then Mike Lee may have a clear path to renomination, despite his generally unfavorable showing among Utah voters generally.

Lesser known officials remain lesser known

Utah voters remain mostly unfamiliar with Sean Reyes, the new attorney general (24% no opinion, 54% favorable).

Voters are even less familiar with Greg Hughes, the new Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives (55% no opinion). Though Greg Hughes attracted plenty of critical press coverage during an ethics battle six years ago, the majority of respondents today express no opinion about him. In addition to the 55% expressing no opinion, 25% were favorable and 20% unfavorable.

Voters support non-discrimination law

Utahns overwhelmingly support “a statewide law to protect Utahns against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” with 72% in favor (of which 51% “strongly favor”) and only 14% opposed.

Though Latter-day Saints actively worked against same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2008, LDS officials announced support for this sort of statewide law about a week before the poll hit the field. Perhaps partly as a result, 68% of self-identified Latter-day Saint respondents expressed support for a statewide non-discrimination law, with 39% “strongly favor[ing]” it. Only 15% of LDS respondents oppose a non-discrimination law, with 17% neutral.

Support was higher still among other respondents. Among the non-religious, 89% favor (and 81% strongly favor) a non-discrimination law. Among religious adherents who are not LDS, 75% favor (and 67% strongly favor) such a law.

Voters ambivalent about daylight saving time

With the Legislature considering taking Utah off daylight saving time, the poll also asked respondents about three possible options: Keeping things as they are, setting clocks permanently forward an hour, or keeping clocks permanently set back an hour. Respondents were asked to indicate their support for each separate possibility.

As it happens, all three options attracted similar levels of support and opposition. Roughly as many respondents favor keeping things as they are (37%) as favor keeping clocks permanently set back an hour (37%). Slightly more respondents favor setting clocks permanently forward (41%).

Oddly, each possibility attracts more opposition than support. No matter what we do with our clocks, or even if we do nothing, more people will be dissatisfied than satisfied.

Views about daylight saving time don’t have strong relationships with partisanship, age, or gender.

Polling details

The poll, fielded by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, was administered online to a representative sample of Utahns who voted in at least one even-year general election from 2004-2014. The poll was in the field from February 2-9, the second week of Utah’s annual legislative session. Exact question wordings, along with details about sampling, response rates, and weighting, are available at the Utah Voter Poll website.

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Should we invite them to the party?

Fifty-six percent say that political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state, while 44% say that they are private associations and cannot be regulated.

The author would like to thank Professors Mike Barber and Chris Karpowitz for advice and assistance they provided with this blog.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the author of this blog has also done some polling work for Count My Vote in the past.

Political parties have a complicated history in American politics. Several founding fathers disdained them because they feared the effects of conflict. However, as the nation developed a routinized politics, the founding fathers lost their dread and became founders of our two-party system.

As the American political system developed, the question shifted from whether or not we would have a party system to who would control the political parties. Elected officials, party administrators, and rank-and-file members competed for control. These separate entities today all claim a share of a party’s identity and structure.

The Republican Party administrators in Utah have re-energized the tensions that naturally exist between these entities. They have asserted a right to dictate rules to select candidates, a decision that puts them at odds with the compromises, legal and political, that party administrators, voters, and elected officials have negotiated over the last two centuries. A compromise that, according to one political scientist, assigns political parties a status akin to a “public utility.”

The question, once again, at issue is really who controls the parties. While party officials are quick to claim control, rank-and-file voters do not believe that control is exclusive. In the February Utah Voter Poll we asked, “Which statement comes closest to your view? Political parties are private associations and cannot be regulated by the state or Political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state.”

Fifty-six percent say that political parties are public institutions and can be regulated by the state, while 44% say that they are private associations and cannot be regulated.

Public's View on Political Parties

As expected, significant differences exist between the parties. Indeed, there is almost a monotonic effect as the scale moves from a “Strong Democrat” to a “Strong Republican.” Eighty-two percent of those who identify as “strong Democrats” express the opinion that parties are public institutions, whereas only 35% of the “strong Republicans” do so.

View of Political Party by Party Affiliation

And of course, the pure independents (those who choose not to identify with any party) find themselves right between the two parties, but more likely to choose the “public institution” category.

The findings raise an interesting question: is it the ideology of the party or is it institutional self-interest that explains the pattern? For example, do Republicans view the party as a private association because they normally oppose government regulations or because they think it will dilute the significant advantage the party enjoys in the state? The same calculus applies to the Democrats, but only in reverse. Do they favor regulation of the parties because that is what Democrats conventionally believe or because they think it will make it possible for them to finally compete politically in the state?

The February UVP asked a question that may point toward an answer. The question provided a choice where individuals could choose between an advantage enjoyed by the major parties and a concept related to election administration: ballot access. The question asks: “State law says that political parties need to receive a certain level of support from voters before their candidates can appear on the election ballot. Some say that this gives an unfair advantage to the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats). Others say it keeps the election ballot from becoming too cluttered with candidates. Which position comes closest to your view?”

Fifty-six percent say that “all parties should receive access to the ballot,” and 44% say, “Only parties that receive a certain level of support should be on the ballot.” The proportions are identical to the “public institutions/private associations” question.

Access to Ballot

However, the partisan distributions differ noticeably. Support for ballot access remains relatively stable across all categories for Democrats and even fairly high for the Independents who lean Republican. Only the “not so strong Republicans” and “strong Republicans” have a majority who want restrictions on ballot access.

Access to Ballot by Party Affiliation

If the major political parties were motivated solely by their concerns about regulation, we would not have expected this pattern. What seems clear is that the “strong Republicans” respond to these two questions as if they know they have the most to gain by preserving the status quo.

As a test of this idea, I combined those individuals who answered “only parties that receive a certain level” and “parties are private associations” into one category. I am interested in the characteristics of the individuals who would choose those two options as opposed to the other combinations. Selection of those two choices seems to indicate a preference for preserving advantages. I use a probit model to estimate the probability of selecting that combination of options as opposed to the other combinations.

The figure below displays the probability of selecting both of the options described above by the different partisan categories. The individuals most likely to choose both categories are the “strong republicans.” Democrats are also quite different from all categories of Republicans.  But the figure essentially shows that the “strong Republicans” have a much higher likelihood of choosing both response categories that preserve the advantages they currently enjoy in the state.

Party Identification Predictions

Political parties have an interesting relationship with the American republic. They are private associations that engage in a highly public activity that is subsidized by the state (e.g. cost of elections, ballot access). The parties help to organize elections, but the Constitution gives control of elections to the states. And perhaps it is that tension which made the founding fathers both fear and embrace them.

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

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What do Mike Lee and Elizabeth Warren have in common?

Senator Lee has the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senator in the 113th Congress.

At first glance, it may seem as though Utah’s Tea Party Senator, Mike Lee, and Massachusetts’ liberal firebrand, Elizabeth Warren, may not have much in common. In terms of policy, they disagree on almost everything. However, there is one area in which the two are quite similar. Lee and Warren share the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senators in their respective parties.

How do we measure the ideological positions of senators? Political scientists often use a measure of legislators’ ideology called NOMINATE (Nominal, Three-Step, Estimation) scores. These scores are based on the roll-call votes cast by legislators and condense the thousands of votes cast in the House and Senate into a single score representing a legislator’s typical ideology. The scores range from -1 to 1 with lower values indicating more liberal voting while positive scores indicate more conservative voting records. Using this measure, Lee scored a .991 in the 113th Congress while Warren scored -.622. There were no senators with scores larger than Lee’s or smaller than Warren’s. The chart below shows a histogram of senators’ ideology scores and notes Lee and Warren’s scores at the ideological extremes.

Warren and Lee are their party's most extreme members

Another way of thinking about a legislator’s ideology is to consider how far she is from the typical legislator in her party. By this measure, Lee was .56 from the median Republican (the median Republican senator’s score in the 113th Congress was .43) while Warren was .29 from the median Democrat (the median Democratic senator’s score in the 113th Congress was -.33). Using this measure, Senator Lee has the distinction of being the most ideologically extreme senator in the 113th Congress.

Given that this blog focuses on Utah politics, lets take some time to consider Senator Lee’s ideology score in greater detail. One reason that Lee could appear so far from the typical Republican senator is that he is voting in line with his constituents (Utah voters), who are also more conservative than the typical American voter. To investigate this possibility, I plot the average ideological position of each state’s voters as measured in a large nationwide survey in 2010 (the year Lee was first elected to office) and each Republican senator’s ideology score. The vertical axis shows Republican senators’ ideology scores from the most moderate Republicans (Collins from Maine) to the most conservative (Lee). The horizontal axis shows the average ideology of each state’s electorate from moderate (South Dakota) to conservative (Louisiana). The two arrows point to Senators Lee and Hatch.

Senator Ideology and Voter Ideology

The figure shows that Lee’s conservative voting record is not necessarily because of Utah voters’ policy preferences. Orrin Hatch, who represents the exact same voters as Lee, has a much more moderate voting record (he is lower on the vertical axis). Furthermore, states like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Alabama have more conservative voters (larger values on the horizontal axis) but their senators have acquired voting records that are more moderate than Lee’s.

Let’s also consider Lee’s voting record in the context of other Utah politicians. The figure below shows the ideological locations of 7 of the last 8 people to serve in the House and Senate from Utah. Mia Love is not shown because she has yet to acquire a voting record. Lee is by far the most conservative of the bunch.

Ideology of Recent Utah Legislators

How does Lee’s voting record compare to other legislators from Utah? For a more historical picture, the histogram below shows the ideological scores for all 49 representatives and senators who have served from Utah since Utah became a state in 1896. Again, Lee stands out among his Utah colleagues as the most conservative member of the Utah delegation ever.

Ideologies of All Utah Legislators

Does any of this matter for the upcoming 2016 election? Because of Utah’s conservative electorate, it is unlikely that Lee would lose to a Democrat in November. However, given the recent changes to Utah’s caucus and primary system, it is possible that he could face a difficult and expensive primary challenge in 2016. Political science research suggests that legislators who are “out of step” with the ideology of their voters are more likely to face challenges in the primary and general elections.

To investigate this possibility, I first use a statistical model to predict the relationship between a Republican senator’s primary electorate and her ideology score. I then measure the degree to which the actual values from the data deviate from the model’s prediction. The distance between the data and the model prediction gives us a rough estimate of how “out of step” a legislator is from her primary electorate. Positive deviations indicate legislators who are more conservative than their primary electorate. Negative deviations indicate legislators who are more liberal than their primary electorate.

The figure below shows that Lee has the largest deviation score of any Republican senator in the Senate today. Furthermore, the deviation score is positive, indicating that Lee is more conservative than we would expect from the composition of the Republican primary electorate in Utah. This is unusual since we expect candidates to strategically position themselves between an ideologically extreme primary electorate and a more moderate general electorate. Consequently, Lee is vulnerable to a moderate challenger in a primary election.

Legislator Ideology and Primary Electorate


About Michael Barber: Michael Barber 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. He studies legislative politics in the United States. More of his research is available at

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“And then depression set in:” Why don’t Utahns turn out to vote?

When we asked respondents to the recent UVP why they believed individuals did not turn out to vote, the overwhelming reason related to one-party dominance.

Professors Quin Monson and Michael Barber contributed to this post.

In the movie “Stripes,” Bill Murray plays a down on his luck cab driver named John Winger. When his girlfriend walks out on him, he utters the phrase, “and then depression set in.”

American democracy seems to be getting to that point. Turnout by some estimates was the worst in seven decades.  Utah was no exception to the depressing news. Our colleague, Adam Brown, summarized the turnout in Utah in a recent Utah Data Points post.

Describing the trend does not necessarily explain it. We want to know what factors contribute to the decline in turnout. Some have looked for institutional explanations such as voter identification laws. However, Utah’s turnout decline began before the adoption of stricter voter id laws. Furthermore, Utah has liberalized absentee and vote-by-mail options, features that should help arrest the decline in turnout. Consequently, institutional explanations do not seem to provide convincing answers.

We think the explanation resides in a rather toxic mix of lack of competitiveness and citizen commitment. It is no secret that Utah is a one-party state. The lack of competitiveness gives individuals few incentives to turnout when the results appear foreordained. Voters think this perception matters. When we asked respondents to the recent UVP why they believed individuals did not turn out to vote, the overwhelming reason related to one-party dominance. The question was “In this last election in Utah, only about 30% of people who are eligible to vote actually voted. In your view, what is the most important reason why voter turnout in Utah is so low?”

Why Not Vote?The figure shows that most individuals believed that the lack of competitiveness resulted in a reduced desire to vote. None of the other choices come even close to this one single reason for not voting. Apathy, too busy, or an inability to navigate the difficulties of registering and getting out to the polls all lag far behind as explanations offered up by habitual voters as reasons for not voting.  Now the UVP is mostly made up of voters, so we are essentially asking voters why they think nonvoters do not vote, but the distribution of answers is certainly instructive.

The depressing effect of lack of competitiveness does not affect everybody equally. We expect that some individuals will be better equipped to shrug off its effects than others. Some individuals will see voting as a “duty.” Duty has often been a predictor of turnout, but it does not receive the same attention as other psychological orientations or as much attention as preference about who wins the election.  However, as Blais and Achen point out, both duty and preference matter, a lot.

The question for Utah is whether or not there is a “duty” gap. Returning to the November post-election UVP, we asked voters whether or not they saw voting “mainly as a duty or a choice.” We then followed up asking how strongly they saw that selection.

The dots in the figure below indicate that some individuals are much more likely to believe that voting is more strongly a duty than others. The lines represent confidence intervals—where the lines overlap, we cannot be certain that the differences are statistically different. What we see however is that those who have a favorable impression of the Tea Party and conservatives view voting more strongly as a duty.

Intriguingly, individuals who express religious preferences are more likely to express a sense of duty when it comes to voting than those without a religion, although the small number of individuals without a religion in the sample means that the confidence intervals are large.

Duty Blog FigureWhen we put all of these factors into a multivariate model (a logistic regression equation that predicts choosing the category of “strongly duty.”), we see that having a favorable impression of the Tea Party and being a conservative positively predict whether a person sees voting as a duty. After controlling for these factors, being Republican or having no religious preference negatively predict whether a person sees voting as a duty (p < .1).

These results only hint at what we think may ail turnout in Utah, but they are worth further exploration.  As Achen and Blais state, “some people construe voting in ethical terms, and that those who do so are more likely to vote and also less inclined to pay attention to non-ethical considerations.” What “non-ethical considerations” mean is the lack of competitiveness and the resulting lack of choices that voters routinely face in Utah.  And the individuals who need to struggle the most with these “non-ethical considerations” to improve Utah’s poor turnout record are probably those who are least likely to hear from some source they consider authoritative that it is their “duty” to vote.

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Pretty much nobody likes the Zion Curtain

Democrats (81%), Republicans (51%), Mormons (51%), other religious adherents (87%), and the non-religious (99%) all agree that restaurants should be allowed to remove these barriers.

Utah law requires restaurants to prepare alcoholic drinks out of sight of customers, either in a separate room or behind a 7-foot tall visual barrier.1 The barrier is routinely derided as the “Zion curtain.” Utah legislators considered a proposal to eliminate this requirement in last year’s legislative session, but the proposal faltered. Because legislators will almost certainly consider the matter again this winter, I included several questions about it in the November 2014 Utah Voter Poll.

The punchline: Democrats (81%), Republicans (51%), Mormons (51%), other religious adherents (87%), and the non-religious (99%) all agree that restaurants should be allowed to remove these barriers. Overall, 63% of Utahns support removal, while only 17% oppose it. (There is a squishy middle of 20% that takes no side.)

This finding of 63% overall support for removal almost exactly mirrors the 62% reported a month ago in a Dan Jones poll commissioned by UtahPolicy (see writeup 1 and writeup 2). To have such agreement across polls that used different question wording and different sampling methods is remarkable.

But the real fun comes in the details, so keep reading. We didn’t just ask about support for removing the barriers; we also asked some additional questions that reveal some surprises about voter attitudes.

The context: The November 2014 Utah Voter Poll

I included several questions about Utah’s alcohol barriers in the post-election wave of the Utah Voter Poll. Respondents are voters recruited into the panel through traditional random sampling techniques during past waves of the Utah Colleges Exit Poll. Details about the poll methodology are available in the November 2014 topline report. The poll is administered by BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. The questions reported here were only one small part of the November poll. For complete question wording, view the topline report.

Utahns don’t believe the barriers make a difference

After providing a brief explanation of current law regarding these barriers (available in the topline), I began by asking respondents whether they agree or disagree with the common justifications given for these barriers. Using a five-point scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree), respondents indicated their agreement with each of the following four statements:

  • Erecting these barriers has decreased alcohol consumption.
  • Removing these barriers would increase alcohol consumption.
  • Erecting these barriers has helped parents teach their children to make wise choices about alcohol.
  • Removing these barriers would help parents teach their children to make wise choices about alcohol.

Respondents overwhelmingly rejected the first three statements, though they show some ambivalence about the fourth; a substantial minority of Utahns believe that removing the barriers would help them teach their children about alcohol.

First I’ll give overall results. To keep the table readable, I abbreviate question wording here, and I combine “strongly agree” with “somewhat agree” into a single “agree” category (likewise for “disagree”). The neutral category, not reported here, hovers in the 20-30% range.

Agree % Disagree %
Barriers decrease drinking 9 69
Removal would increase drinking 15 67
Barriers help parents teach 11 68
Removal would help parents teach 31 35

The next table reports results by partisan and religious subgroups. In the interest of space, I report only the percentage who agree (either “strongly” or “somewhat”) in this table. All these subgroups join in rejecting the first three statements. On the fourth, Republicans and Mormons are less likely than others to believe that removing the barriers would help them teach their children about alcohol. Regardless, Republicans and Mormons join the other groups in believing that the barriers haven’t helped them teach their children in the past.

Dem GOP LDS Other religion No religion
Barriers decrease drinking 8 10 10 12 3
Removal would increase drinking 11 17 17 14 4
Barriers help parents teach 9 11 13 8 1
Removal would help parents teach 41 24 27 41 42

Utahns prefer to eliminate the barriers

I next asked respondents to evaluate the following three policy alternatives using the same five-point scale as before, except agree/disagree became support/oppose:

  • Allow restaurants to remove these barriers and prepare alcohol within sight of customers.
  • Allow restaurants to remove these barriers if they post a sign at the door advising patrons that alcohol is prepared within sight of customers.
  • Change nothing; continue to require these barriers.

The first two proposals have been the subject of actual bills in recent legislative sessions. Overall, Utah voters prefer simply eliminating the barriers, though they prefer either reform to the status quo. Once again, 20-30% of respondents are neutral on each proposal.

Support % Oppose %
Allow removal of barriers 63 17
Allow removal with notices 43 25
Change nothing; keep barriers 16 64

All partisan and religious subgroups support allowing restaurants to remove the barriers. Among Democrats, the non-religious, and non-Mormon religious adherents, support is extremely strong (above 80%) for removing the barriers. Though only 51% of Republicans and 51% of Mormons support removing the barriers, only 24% of Republicans and 23% of Mormons oppose this change; the rest are neutral. Even among Republicans and Mormons, then, there is a 2-1 margin in favor of eliminating the barriers.

Dem GOP LDS Other religion No religion
Allow removal of barriers 81 51 51 87 99
Allow removal with notices 43 43 44 37 44
Change nothing; keep barriers 8 20 20 7 1

Incidentally, the survey also included a little experiment. Half the survey respondents saw these barriers referred to as the “Zion curtain”; the rest did not see that term. The questions were otherwise identical. Polling research often finds that including this sort of critical language can influence the results, especially when respondents’ opinions are weakly formed. In this case, though, it turns out that including the critical term “Zion curtain” had no effect on the results. Those who saw the critical epithet provided similar answers to the questions as those who did not. The resilience of these results to this wording shift suggests that voters attitudes on this issue are relatively well-formed.

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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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Voter turnout in Utah just got worse

In 2014, Utah was one of only 4 states with turnout below 29%.

This post is based on preliminary turnout figures from the various states. These findings may need to be revised as provisional and absentee ballots are counted nationwide.

Nationally, last week’s elections witnessed the lowest midterm election turnout in seven decades. As bad as things were nationwide, though, they were even worse in Utah.

Though Utah’s turnout numbers may rise modestly as the last few absentee ballots are counted, it appears that Utah just experienced one of its worst showings in decades for an even-year election. More and more, it seems that Utahns are giving up on voting.

So far, 494,289 ballots were cast in Utah’s only statewide race, the attorney general election. Adding up all the ballots cast in Utah’s four Congressional races produces a similar figure (496,308 ballots). If we suppose that the remaining absentee ballots will bring the total figure up to 550,000, that would give Utah a 28.8% turnout rate for 2014.

How I calculate turnout

Let’s be clear about the math. Utah’s election administrators generally report turnout as a percentage of “active” registered voters. Because Utah’s voter roll lists 1,252,669 “active” registered voters, their method would report 550,000 ballots as 44% turnout. Not bad, right? A 44% rate certainly sounds better than 29%. For election administrators interested in reaching already-registered voters, this method of calculating turnout may make sense. But if we want to use turnout as an indicator of democratic health, we need another measure.

So how am I arriving at a 29% turnout figure? Political scientists calculate turnout as the percentage of eligible voters in a state. We routinely abbreviate “voter-eligible population” as VEP. In most states, “eligible” means you are at least 18, a citizen, and not currently incarcerated. The gold-standard 50-state data series on VEP turnout is maintained by Michael P. McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida. I use his data throughout this post, including his estimates of 2014 turnout rates, which may change modestly in coming weeks as outstanding absentee ballots are counted nationwide.

Just how bad was Utah’s turnout in 2014?

Take a look at the figure below. For each even-numbered election year, the large red dot shows Utah’s VEP turnout rate. The small blue dots show turnout in the other states. In every state, the turnout rate goes up in presidential years and down in midterm years; this isn’t surprising. What is remarkable, though, is Utah’s decline relative to other states. During the 1980s, Utah routinely had above-average turnout. Since the late 1990s, Utah has routinely had below-average turnout. In 2014, Utah was one of only 4 states with turnout below 29%. (The others were Indiana, New York, and Texas.)

Turnout, 1980-2014 - Utah (red) vs other states (blue)

Turnout, 1980-2014 – Utah (red) vs other states (blue)

This next figure makes Utah’s decline even more apparent. For each even-numbered year, this chart depicts the difference between Utah’s turnout rate and the nation’s average turnout rate. From 1980 through 1992, the difference was positive, meaning that Utah’s turnout rate was higher than the national average. In 1994, Utah sat a mere 0.4 percentage points above the national average. Since 1996, Utah’s turnout rate has consistently been below the national average.

Turnout 1980-2014 - Utah vs the national average

Turnout 1980-2014 – Utah vs the national average

Utah’s turnout improved somewhat in 2012, with Utah only 2.8 percentage points behind the national average. Perhaps Romney’s local popularity boosted turnout. But Utahns made up for their improved showing in 2012 by staying home in 2014. In 2014, Utah’s turnout rate was around 7.5 percentage points below the nation’s average. Though this figure will shift somewhat when final vote counts come out, it is unlikely to move by more than a trivial amount.

Why is Utah’s turnout falling?

Past posts have considered three possible explanations for Utah’s declining voter turnout, two of which seem to be supported by the evidence.

First, Utah witnessed genuine partisan competitiveness from the 1930s through the 1970s. During this time, elections routinely swung control of the Utah Legislature or of the governor’s mansion. And during this time, voter turnout was high. The Republican lock on Utah dates to the early 1980s and has strengthened in recent years. If voters feel that elections are foregone, they may feel less motivated to register and to vote. Such an attitude is unfortunate; even if the partisan races are foregone (which is not always true), there are ballot initiatives and non-partisan races to consider. See this post from 2012 for more analysis of whether uncompetitive elections hurt Utah’s turnout.

Second, Utah had no marquee race at the top of the ballot this year. Over the past half-century, many states have migrated toward holding their gubernatorial elections in midterm years to get them out of the shadow of presidential politics. Last week, 36 states had gubernatorial races.1 In addition, 34 states had US Senate races. Utah was one of only five states with neither marquee race on the ballot this year. (The others were Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington.) One way for Utah to boost midterm-year turnout would be to move gubernatorial elections to midterm years. See this post from 2010 for details. In a nutshell, we could expect this reform to provide a permanent 6.7% boost to midterm-year turnout.

Third, some have suggested that Utah’s turnout is low because it has so many young people, and young people are less likely to turn out. Though it’s true that Utah has a younger than average population, see this post from 2010 to see why we can’t blame young people for Utah’s declining turnout.

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