Do Wimmer and Sandstrom agree on everything?

Wimmer and Sandstrom have voted against each other 257 times

We now have two Republican members of the state legislature planning to run against each other in the newly-created 4th Congressional district. It’s been clear for months that Carl Wimmer wanted to run there, so it wasn’t surprising when that district was drawn to include his Herriman home. The surprise came this week, when his fellow Republican legislator Stephen Sandstrom announced his intention to run against Wimmer.

Sandstrom’s candidacy has surprised many observers, mainly because Sandstrom and Wimmer are seen as friends and allies. For example, the Tribune notes that both men supported HB 479 (the enforcement-only immigration law) and both opposed HB 116 (the guest worker law). Both also supported HB 477, the controversial GRAMA revision. It’s also true that both are founding members of the legislature’s Patrick Henry Caucus. They are so similar that the race might hinge more on personality and experience than on ideology, as discussed in the Tribune’s article.

I took a look at Wimmer’s and Sandstrom’s votes in the Utah House. It turns out that there’s more ideological distance between them than we might expect.

The data

I have compiled a database of every recorded legislative vote from the 2007 through 2011 general sessions. Representatives Sandstrom and Wimmer have served in all five of these legislative sessions, so we have lots of data for comparison.

The Utah House held 3,156 votes across those five general sessions. Occasionally a legislator misses a vote for one reason or another. (I discuss legislator absenteeism here.) There were 2,659 votes where BOTH Sandstrom and Wimmer were present and voting. I’ll look only at those 2,659 votes.

The results

Of these 2,659 recorded floor votes, Wimmer and Sandstrom have voted against each other 257 times. Of these, Sandstrom voted “no” to Wimmer’s “yes” 54 times, and Wimmer voted “no” to Sandstrom’s “yes” 203 times.

That may not seem like much. After all, they still voted together 90% of the time. But consider some perspective. Most votes in the Utah House are decided by a supermajority. Of the 2,659 votes I’m looking at, 1,985 had a supermajority of at least 55 of the 75 representatives voting together. We wouldn’t usually expect to see Sandstrom and Wimmer disagree on these sorts of near-unanimous votes.

Only 417 votes over the past five years have been decided by slimmer margins. Of those 417 votes, Sandstrom and Wimmer have disagreed 97 times. That is, Wimmer and Sandstrom have disagreed on 23% of these contested votes. That’s a lot.

What’s more, there were even more disagreements in the 2011 session than in past years. The table below shows all 2,659 votes over the past five years where both Sandstrom and Wimmer were present. In 2011, they disagreed 15.5% of the time, almost double their usual rate of disagreement. This disagreement came despite their agreement on some of the most controversial bills (immigration and GRAMA).

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
total # votes 499 552 565 527 516
# disagree 34 54 45 44 80
% disagree 6.8% 9.8% 8.0% 8.3% 15.5%

Further evidence: Ideology scores

Last May, I calculated ideology scores for every Utah legislator using the same 2007-2011 voting records. Both men are consistently more conservative than the average legislative Republican. Let me reiterate: There’s no question that both men are conservative Republicans, even by Utah standards.

But my ideology scores showed some daylight between them. Wimmer’s score is consistently extreme, placing him far to the right of most Utah Republicans, whereas Sandstrom’s puts him to the right of average, but still within the mainstream. (The raw scores are here.)

I’ve put the ideology scores for the 2011 General Session of the Utah House in the figure below. Scores range from -100 to +100. Each legislator’s score is indicated by a D for Democrats, R for Republicans. For example, 4 Democrats had a score between -100 and -90, hence the 4 Ds in the first row. Sandstrom is the S; Wimmer is the W. Both men are right of average, but Wimmer’s score is extremely to the right of average.

Sandstrom's ideology score is right of center, but not as extreme as Wimmer's

Ideology scores for the 2011 Utah House

The disagreements

I’ve got a spreadsheet showing every vote since 2007 where Wimmer and Sandstrom have disagreed. I haven’t looked through it closely, since I don’t get paid for writing these posts. I’m happy to make the complete list available to anybody who contacts me. Just a few random examples from 2011:

  • Sandstrom voted for HB204 (“protection of athletes with head injuries”), Wimmer did not.
  • Sandstrom voted for HB15 (“Controlled Substance Database – Licensing Amendments”), Wimmer did not.
  • Sandstrom voted for HB223 (“Innkeeper’s Rights Act Modifications”), Wimmer did not.
  • Wimmer voted for HB 221S1 (“Classic car inspections”), Sandstrom did not.
  • Wimmer voted for HB301 (“School district property tax revisions”), Sandstrom did not.

That list just comes from randomly choosing rows in my spreadsheet to look at. I’m sure there would be more interesting disagreements if I looked more closely.

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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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