On Count My Vote, Who is Toeing the Party Line?

Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.

Utahns might have the opportunity to reform the caucus/convention system if the proponents of Count My Vote  can qualify the initiative for the ballot.  In November of 2013, researchers at CSED fielded a Utah Voter Poll (UVP) and asked several questions about support for the initiative and reasons for the support.

The poll contains good news for Count My Vote proponents — 64% of UVP respondents favored moving to a primary system. The UVP panel is recruited from actual Utah voters and so this result reflects the current view of those individuals who are likely to vote in November 2014.  Only 9% answered “don’t know,” a relatively small proportion for an initiative a full year before election day.1

Support for Initiative

Question Wording: A proposed initiative seeks to change our electoral system so that Utahns “select political party nominees through a direct vote of the people in a regular primary election.”  Currently, Utah’s system for choosing nominees includes neighborhood caucuses and a state party convention, where party members can meet to discuss the candidates and choose a nominee.   In regards to Utah’s electoral system, which of the following comes closer to your views?

The debate over reform has a clear ideological dimension. In one of the best books written on the politics of reform, The Limits of Electoral Reform, Shaun Bowler and Todd Donavan argue that reform politics have an identifiable dynamic.  Those proposing reforms normally disrupt the qualities of a political system, a fact that results in some counter-mobilization.  The subsequent campaign provides information by which voters recognize whether or not their specific interest may be harmed by the change.  Consequently, support for reforms vary by partisan and ideological interests.

This dynamic of partisan and ideological factions identifying and favoring their political self-interest emerges when we examine support for the reform by party identification.  Only a majority of two categories express support for the status quo: those who identify as strong Republicans and those who identify with some third party.  Most interestingly, the battle is quite close among the strong Republicans, with only a bare majority expressing support.  Otherwise, most all other identifiers support the reform.

Support for Initiative by PID

What this means for Utah is that conservatives are counter-mobilizing to attempt to defeat Count My Vote because they want to preserve their control over the Republican Party and thus over Utah’s one-party system.

Ideology tells essentially the same story.  Only one group among the five ideological categories wants the status quo: those who identify as strongly conservative.  Support for the reform emerges abruptly as the scale moves from right to left.  Individuals who are moderately conservative overwhelmingly support the reform.

Support for Initiative by Ideology

The group that stands to benefit the most—or at least the one that seems to oppose the reform—actively supports the Tea Party.  Individuals who consider themselves active supporters of the Tea Party, only 12% of the November 2013 UVP sample, overwhelmingly oppose the reform.  Almost 80% of the 88% percent of Utah voters who do not consider themselves Tea Party supporters favor the reform.

Support for Initiative by Tea Party Support

Together, the figures on party identification, ideology, and Tea Party support suggest that it is one particular segment of the Republican Party that opposes reform.  To test this idea on many of the possible predictors of favoring or opposing reform simultaneously, I use regression analysis.  Logistic regression is an appropriate method of analysis when the question of interest has two categories.  In addition to party identification, ideology, and active Tea Party support, I also include several other variables or predictors as statistical controls.  These include gender, income, education, and age.

The model indicates that when controlling for multiple possible predictors at the same time, party identification does not matter.2 However, ideology and being an active supporter of the Tea Party do.

The graph below shows the probabilities for different categories of ideology.  The probabilities are estimated holding all of the other variables constant at their average.
The line shows just how steep the decline is across ideology.  As individuals become less conservative, the probability of opposing the reform drops to almost zero.   Importantly, for all categories except “strongly conservative,” the probability of opposing the reform effort is well below 50 percent.

Probability Figure for Ideology

A similar effect occurs for Tea Party support.  As an individual moves from not actively supporting to actively supporting the Tea Party, the probability of opposing the reform increases by almost 30 percentage points.

These findings raise an interesting question: Why does the Republican Party in Utah oppose the reform when only one segment of the party seems to oppose it?  Only those who are the most conservative and support the Tea Party seem to prefer the status quo.  If parties are the vehicles to aggregate and channel opinion to elected officials, the Republican Party seems only to be listening to one part of its party: those who are active supporters of the Tea Party and strongly conservative.

Strong Republicans make up 39% of self-identified Republicans, and only about half of the strong republicans say they are strongly conservative.  This means you can be a strong republican and not strongly conservative.  There are lots of individuals who are both Republican and conservative who support the reform, contrary to what the Party is actually doing.

This mismatch between what some party officials are doing and what the rank-and-file wants raises intriguing questions about the issue of representation, deliberation, and voter sophistication—all issues that I will explore in another post soon.


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4 Responses to On Count My Vote, Who is Toeing the Party Line?

  1. M N says:

    I am not surprised that those who identify with the Tea party are in favor of keeping the caucus system. It is a system which allows for small community groups of people to be represented in the election of officials. It really requires people to be informed and involved to work well. The politicians want the primary system because then they can promote their lies on TV an radio in ads.

  2. Ben Mathews says:

    Have you considered that perhaps the preference of conservatives is an ideological one? There is nothing about the caucus system that inherently benefits one group over another. It just pushes the control down the lowest level possible. In the north east, a caucus system would reliably elect liberals. The fact that conservatives do well in Utah’s system is only a reflection that they are relatively large in numbers and motivation to the rest of the voting population.

  3. Josh Daniels says:

    This is a surprising result and seems to actually indicate that liberals intend on voting in future Republican “primaries.” If the data reflected the theory that more ideological people prefer the caucus system then it would yield a bimodal distribution with the two ideological poles favoring the caucus system most and centrists favoring a “primary.”

    In Utah, studies have shown (your studies!–your work is the most common and reliable work on the issue) that caucus/convention participation is often highest among the ideological “extremes.” This means that true ideological liberals on the left-most side of the spectrum would prefer caucuses to ensure party or ideological purity in their party nominees. This has actually been the case as there have been years when Rep. Matheson, the state’s highest elected democrat, actually received notable opposition (http://www.examiner.com/article/utah-conventions-kick-bennett-out-scare-jim-matheson).

    Thus, it is puzzling why ideological liberals would oppose the caucus system as it works for them to ensure their democratic nominees are sufficiently ideologically pure.

    So either, ideological liberals have given up hope on electing their own and just want to ensure that the republican’s nominees (who are likely to end up elected to office in general elections) are not the most conservative variety; or, ideological liberals actually plan on participating in these new republican “primaries” as unaffiliated voters.

    I put “primary” in quotes because the CMV proposal does not include a run-off election really undermining the concept of a “primary” when this word is used to describe the CMV proposal. I wonder if the data would be any different if people fully understood the specific procedural nature of the CMV proposal.

    • Adam Brown says:

      Two thoughts.

      (1) Though his views are “evolving”, Jim Dabakis, the state’s Democratic chair, wants to preserve the caucus system for his party.

      (2) As it is, Democrats have open caucuses and primaries, but Republicans have closed ones (meaning you have to register as a Republican to participate). So there is already an incentive for Democrats to infiltrate GOP nomination politics by registering as Republicans, because doing so doesn’t bar them from participating in Democratic nominations as well. But my colleague Quin Monson posted this great analysis in December 2012 showing that it doesn’t really happen. (The second figure is the most relevant one.)

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