Why do county parties have platforms?

Recently I wanted to dig up all the county-level Republican and Democratic platforms here in Utah. My interest came from the pro-life plank in the surprisingly conservative Utah County Democratic platform–I wanted to see how many other county platforms in Utah said something that conflicted with the national party platforms.

Counties with Party Platforms

Counties with Party Platforms (click to enlarge)

I was surprised to find that hardly any county parties in Utah have platforms. In fact, county platforms don’t even exist outside the greater Wasatch Front, unless I overlooked something. Take a look at the map at right. Counties in purple (Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, and Utah) have county-level platforms for both parties. Counties in red (Box Elder) have a county Republican platform. Counties in blue (Weber, Wasatch) have a county Democratic platform.

I would guess that a big reason so many county parties lack a platform is population. Not the county’s total population, but the population of Republicans or Democrats. If you don’t have at least several hundred Democrats in a county, you probably don’t have a very deep talent pool from which to recruit an active county Democratic chair who might bother to put together a platform committee prior to the county convention.

In the table below, I have listed the 12 counties with the most Democrats (number of Dems, not percent of Dems) and also the 12 counties with the most Republicans, always in descending order.1

Largest Democratic populations Has Democratic platform? Largest Republican populations Has Republican platform?
1 Salt Lake Yes 1 Salt Lake Yes
2 Davis Yes 2 Utah Yes
3 Utah Yes 3 Davis Yes
4 Weber Yes 4 Weber No
5 Washington No 5 Washington No
6 Summit No 6 Cache Yes
7 Cache Yes 7 Box Elder Yes
8 Tooele No 8 Iron No
9 Box Elder No 9 Tooele No
10 Carbon No 10 Uintah No
11 Iron No 11 Summit No
12 Wasatch Yes 12 Sevier No
17 more counties No 17 more counties No

Looks like population is the main driver of platform adoption. Still, consider some weirdness:

  • Why don’t we see platforms in Washington County? They’re big enough. Same with Summit Democrats and Weber Republicans.
  • Why does Wasatch County have a Democratic platform? They have about 1/10 as many Democratic voters as most of the other counties with Democratic platforms.

I should mention that I searched the state and county party websites for platforms. It’s possible that some counties have a platform but don’t post it online. If you know of a platform that I missed, please send it along.

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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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