Background research on Utah’s caucus-convention system

The news reports a proposed ballot measure to reform Utah’s nominating system.

This might be a good time to remind readers of an excellent report by the non-partisan Utah Foundation about a year ago. The report’s author, Morgan Lyon Cotti, published a guest post on our blog summarizing the report. The full report is at the Utah Foundation’s website.

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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 Background research on Utah’s caucus-convention system

  1. utah_1 says:

    The caucus system is the best way to make sure grass roots movements can work over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2,000,000 in election funds.

    There were about 60,000 republicans in Utah that went to the neighborhood caucus elections in 2010 to elect the 3500 delegates. Add to those numbers to democrats and the primary elections and certainly the municipal elections didn’t do any better in voter representation.

    In 2012 the number showing up again doubled. You look at primary turnout and you will see that few voters would decide.

    Most people that want the caucus system changed, there are exceptions, are frustrated that they don’t have as much power as people that show up to the neighborhood election caucus meetings. It doesn’t take money, you just have to show up.

    What we need are more people getting involved earlier, not shutting down the system that protects us from power hungry people wanting to take over.

    If you are going to run as a democratic candidate, you have to comply with their rules. If you are going to run as a republican, you have to comply with their rules. If you want to run and not have those rules, you can run as an unaffiliated or independent. There are also 3rd party. This is an attempt to change the party rules by state law, bypassing the party and is even an attempt to change the law bypassing the legislature. That is called being a pirate.

    • Adam Brown says:

      You say a couple things that don’t jive well with the research literature.

      (1) “It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2,000,000 in election funds..” The political science literature generally finds that campaign spending has far, far weaker causal effects than you might suppose. It’s true that well-funded candidates usually win, but that’s not causation, it’s correlation–donors tend to give money to the likely winner (the incumbent, or the experienced candidate in an open race) in hopes of being on the winner’s good side. So I’m not sure I’d assert that either system will be any better (or worse) for underfunded candidates.

      (2) “If you are going to run as a democratic candidate, you have to comply with their rules…..” The state prints the ballots at taxpayer expense, so this might not be strictly a party matter. Historically, states didn’t print ballots, and every race was, in effect, a write-in. You could bring in your own preprinted ballot if you wanted to, though. Parties would routinely print up a ballot listing all their candidates, and partisans could just bring that and put in the box. The term “split ticket” we use today refers to literally ripping the party ballot in half and only using part of it. Those days ended in the late 1800s. Ever since states got into the business of printing official ballots at taxpayer expense, they’ve had to be in the business of overseeing the nomination process as well.

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