Could Republicans win all four U.S. House districts?

This movement toward the GOP represents a continuation of a rightward trend that began decades ago

In a few days, we’ll post Census data showing that Hispanics (who often vote Democratic) have become a larger percentage of the state’s population. This trend might lead you to expect the Republican hold on the state to weaken somewhat. That expectation would be wrong. The Republican Party has only grown stronger in Utah over the past decade.

The figure below shows the GOP advantage in Utah since statehood. For each presidential election year, we plot the difference between the Republican presidential candidate’s vote share in Utah and his vote share nationally. To be clear, the figure does not show whether Utah voted Democratic or Republican in any given year; it shows whether Utah voted more Republican than the rest of the nation in any given year.1

In 2008, for example, John McCain won only 46.3% of the vote nationally, but 64.5% of Utah’s vote.2 Subtracting 46.3 from 64.5, we estimate an 18.2 percentage point GOP advantage in Utah for 2008. You can see our estimates for each year in the figure below.

Utah's continuing shift to the right (click to enlarge)

The preceding figure shows a clear shift to the right during the 2000s. Although the GOP advantage fell somewhat in 2008 relative to 2000 and 2004, each of the estimates from the 2000s is higher than any estimate from 1984 through 1996. The GOP advantage in Utah relative to the nation was stronger in 2000, 2004, and 2008 than in the preceding four presidential elections.

Data from the biennial Utah Colleges Exit Poll shows the same pattern, at least for years since 1982 (when the exit poll got started). Exit polls from 1992-2000 found an average of 58.5% of respondents calling themselves Republican, but exit polls from 2002-2010 found an average of 62.8% calling themselves Republican. That comes out to a rise of 4.3 percentage points in the 2000s as compared to the 1990s.

The figure below shows exit poll data from 1982-2010. Note that every exit poll estimate from the 2000s is higher than every estimate from the 1990s and 1980s (except 1994).3

Both figures show a continuing movement toward the GOP in the 2000s (with a slight reversal in 2008 and 2010). This movement toward the GOP represents a continuation of a rightward trend that began decades ago, following a New Deal-era period of Democratic strength in the state.

Republicans are hoping to draw four Republican-majority districts. With these partisan shifts, they could probably accomplish that. (Of course, simply drawing four Republican-majority districts doesn’t mean that Rep. Matheson won’t keep winning in one of them. He’s been winning in a Republican majority district for a decade now. But we’ll address Rep. Matheson in a few days.)

In this post, we’ve talked about partisan shifts from a statewide perspective. In our next post, we’ll take a county-by-county look. It turns out that every county but one moved toward the GOP between 1992 and 2008. And one county made a striking move from majority Democratic in 1992 to majority Republican in 2008. But you’ll need to wait until our next post to see the details. (Update: That post is now available here.)

This is part of a series of posts about redistricting in Utah. For an overview, read the introductory post. My talented research assistant, Robert Richards, contributed heavily to this series.

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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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2 Responses to Could Republicans win all four U.S. House districts?

  1. Daniel B says:

    How about that drop in Independent affiliation? In the last couple years, both Republicans and Democrats appear to have had some increased numbers while Independents have lost ground more sharply. An indication of some polarization?

  2. Adam Brown says:

    Yes, I saw that too. I haven’t dug into it for an explanation yet, so I didn’t comment on it here. But it’s striking.

    Nationally, there’s research showing that polarization is on the rise. From the 1950s through the 1990s, there were lots of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Those are becoming very rare as people sort into the two parties in a more ideological way. But I’m not aware of anybody who has looked specifically at Utah.

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