Once again, consensus voting reigns in the Utah Legislature

Legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party.

Utah legislators really don’t like to vote “no.” If a bill comes to a vote, you can be all but certain that it will succeed. The figure below tells the story; for each year since 2007, it shows the average size of the voting majority (as a percent). In 2014, the average House vote saw 93% of Representatives voting the same way; in the Senate, the average was 96%.

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

Percent of legislators who vote the same way on a bill, on average

This means that Republicans and Democrats typically vote together. A “party-line” vote—that is, a vote where a majority of Republicans votes against a majority of Democrats—is rare in the Legislature. In 2014, only 10% of House votes and 5% of Senate votes were decided along party lines. Those numbers were marginally lower than in recent years (detailed data is here). The figure shows the trend:

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

Percentage of votes decided on party lines, by year

We shouldn’t be surprised by this result. The 2012 elections gave us the second-most Republican Legislature in the past 80 years. Democrats control 14 of 75 House seats and 5 of 29 Senate seats. By playing nice, Democrats ensure that Republicans will reciprocate. In fact, Democrats managed to pass 49% of their bills this year despite their small numbers. (Data for previous years is here.) The chart below shows that this was one of their highest rates in the past several years—a success rate only 15 percentage points lower than the 64% success rate for Republican-sponsored bills.

Party batting averages, by year

Party batting averages, by year

So we’ve seen that legislators don’t like to vote “no,” even for bills sponsored by the opposing party. That doesn’t mean bills don’t die, though. Lots of bills die. But they die because they run out of time, not because they were voted down.

If we look only at bills that made it out of committee and had at least one floor vote, 80% were successfully enacted while 20% were not. Let’s look at that latter group for a moment. Of these bills, though, only 18% were actually voted down on the floor; the remaining 82% simply didn’t complete their journey through the legislative process before the session ended. Bills die because they time out, not because they are voted down.

Let’s get to the fun part now. Legislators obviously vary in how excited they are to vote “no.” First let’s list legislators who vote “no” less than 4% of the time. You’ll notice they are almost all in the Senate.

Okerlund, Ralph R Senate 1%
Osmond, Aaron R Senate 1%
Adams, J. Stuart R Senate 1%
Niederhauser, Wayne L. R Senate 1%
Weiler, Todd R Senate 1%
Bramble, Curtis S. R Senate 1%
Stevenson, Jerry W. R Senate 2%
Urquhart, Stephen H. R Senate 2%
Knudson, Peter C. R Senate 2%
Thatcher, Daniel W. R Senate 2%
Shiozawa, Brian E. R Senate 2%
Reid, Stuart C. R Senate 3%
Eliason, Steve R House 3%
Hinkins, David P. R Senate 3%

Next we’ll list legislators who vote “no” 10% of the time or more. They’re mostly in the House.

Menlove, Ronda Rudd R House 10%
Chavez-Houck, Rebecca D House 10%
Briscoe, Joel K. D House 10%
Dayton, Margaret R Senate 10%
Romero, Angela D House 10%
Cox, Jon R House 11%
Wilcox, Ryan D. R House 11%
Roberts, Marc K. R House 11%
Knotwell, John R House 12%
Greene, Brian M. R House 13%
Bird, Jim R House 13%
Anderegg, Jacob L. R House 15%
McCay, Daniel R House 15%

You might expect most “no” votes to come from the minority party. Though a few Democrats did find their way into the second table, legislators at both extremes tend to be Republicans. We seem to be seeing intraparty ideological splits among Republicans here more than cross-party disagreements.

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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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