The Current State of the 2014 Utah Campaigns

It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.

This post was written by Chris Karpowitz and Jeremy Pope, Co-Directors of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, with assistance from  Alejandra Gimenez, a CSED undergraduate research fellow.  Inquires about the survey or its methodology should be directed toward Professors Karpowitz and Pope.

With the 2014 midterm elections just a few days away, where do the races currently stand?  From October 15-22, BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy fielded the latest Utah Voter Poll, which is a statewide sample of voters who were recruited to participate after completing the Utah Colleges Exit Poll in a previous election year.  (More details about the sample and methodology are available here.)  We asked voters a number of questions about their views of Utah politicians, including their current vote choices in the upcoming electoral races.

We find that Utahns are reasonably happy with state leaders, especially Governor Herbert.  Overall, he enjoys a 76% approval rating, with only 24% disapproving.   (That approval rate jumps to 93% among self-identified Republicans and falls to 45% among Democrats.  Levels of approval among independents are about the same as the statewide average.)  The public’s views of the legislature are comparatively less enthusiastic, but still generally positive, with 58% approving and 42% disapproving.

With respect to the upcoming midterms, we presented voters with the choices they will face at the ballot on election day.  Given that ours is a sample of voters who have been to the polls in previous years, nearly all our respondents (99%) said they were somewhat likely (8%) or very likely (91%) to vote this year.

In 2014, Utahns will vote in only one statewide race — the special election for Attorney General. In light of the scandals that have engulfed both John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, some observers wondered whether Utahns would be more hesitant to support the Republican candidate for attorney general or more willing to give the Democratic candidate a closer look.  But that does not seem to be the case among the voters in our sample, as Table 1 shows.  While 18% were not yet sure about their vote choice, nearly 50% expressed support for Sean Reyes, the Republican, and he has a 20-point lead over Charles Stormont — well beyond the margin of error for this survey.

Special Election for Attorney General
% Supporting
Sean Reyes, Republican 47%
Charles A. Stormont, Democrat 27%
W. Andrew McCullough, Libertarian 4%
Gregory G. Hansen, Constitution 2%
Leslie D. Curtis, American Independent 1%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 18%
Do not plan on voting in this election 1%
Total 100%
(776 respondents)

Congressional Races in Districts 1-3

In addition to the statewide race, we also asked voters about their preferences for the congressional candidates in their districts.  Because the number of respondents within each district is smaller than for the state as a whole, the margin of error for each of these congressional district results is higher than the normal 3.4% margin of error for a simple random sample (see the topline report for more detail about the survey’s margin of error).  In addition, readers should keep in mind that our survey is designed to be a statewide sample of voters, not a separate sample of each congressional district.  Thus, the results should be treated as more of an indicator of what is happening in the congressional races, rather than as a definitive prediction of the final outcome.

In Congressional Districts 1 through 3, we see considerable advantages for the Republican candidates.  Rob Bishop leads Donna McAleer by nearly 20 points, and Jason Chaffetz is ahead of the seldom-campaigning Brian Wonnacott by almost 35 points.  In the second district, the race is somewhat closer (a little less than 7 percentage points), but our sample of voters in that district leans somewhat more Democratic than the other congressional districts and somewhat more Democratic than the 2012 electorate.  In 2012, Chris Stewart defeated the Democrat Jay Seegmiller by nearly 30 points, so a 7-point race is tighter than past experience would indicate.  In all three congressional districts, between 14-15% of respondents to our poll said that they had not yet made a firm vote choice, but in the 1st and 3rd districts, even if all of those voters were to choose the Democratic candidate (an unlikely occurrence), it would not be enough to close the gap.

Congressional District 1
% Supporting
Rob Bishop, Republican 49.1%
Donna M. McAleer, Democrat 30.8%
Craig Bowden, Libertarian 3.2%
Dwayne A. Vance, American Independent 2.0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.9%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(159 respondents)
Congressional District 2
% Supporting 
 Chris Stewart, Republican  43.3%
 Luz Robles, Democrat  36.7%
 Wayne L. Hill, Independent American  0%
 Shaun McCausland, Constitution 2.8%
 Bill Barron, Independent  1.4%
 Don’t Know/Someone Else  15.8%
 Do not plan on voting in this election  0%
 Total  100%
(192 respondents)
Congressional District 3
% Supporting
Jason Chaffetz, Republican 59.0%
Brian Wonnacott, Democrat 24.9%
Zach Strong, Independent American 0.9%
Ben J. Mates, Independent 0.6%
Stephen P. Tryon, Independent 0%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 14.1%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0.5%
Total 100%
(169 respondents)

The Competitive 4th District

In our sample, the closest race is in the 4th Congrssional District.  The state of this race has been the subject of considerable speculation, with dueling campaign polls portraying very different electoral landscapes.  The most recent independent poll showed Mia Love ahead by 9 percentage points.

Our results show a 4th district race that appears to have tightened considerably in October.  Among our 236 4th district respondents, Doug Owens has 45.8% to Mia Love’s 42.2% — a result that is statistically indistinguishable from a tie.  In contrast to the results in the other congressional districts, only 6.6% of voters in CD4 claimed they had not yet made up their minds at the time the survey was in the field.

Congressional District 4
% Supporting
Mia B. Love, Republican 42.2%
Doug Owens, Democrat 45.8%
Jim L. Vein, Libertarian 3.6%
Tim Aalders, Independent American 0.5%
Collin Robert Simonsen, Constitution 1.3%
Don’t Know/Someone Else 6.6%
Do not plan on voting in this election 0%
Total 100%
(236 respondents)

When we break down the results still further, it appears that Owens is taking nearly all the votes of Democrats in the 4th District (97%) and is capturing a meaningful number of Republicans (22%, compared to Mia Love’s 66% of Republicans).  The number of independents in our 4th District sample is too small for reliable conclusions, but Owens may have a lead among those voters, too.  For Owens to win, he will need to follow Jim Matheson’s pattern of overwhelming victory among Democrats and solid support from independents and Republicans.  In 2012, for example, the Utah Colleges Exit Poll showed that Matheson won 94% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 23% of Republicans in the district.  Owens’s performance in the current poll parallels that result very closely.

In addition to comparing the Utah Voter Poll results with past elections, we can examine the differences between the Love-Owens race and the Reyes-Stormont AG race among 4th District voters.  In other words, we can explore how the behavior of the same voters in the district sample varies across the two races.  The comparison is illuminating because in our sample, the Republican Sean Reyes has a substantial lead among 4th District voters, a result that closely resembles the statewide margin.  Similarly, levels of approval for the governor in the 4th District almost perfectly mirror approval levels for the state as a whole.  In other words, the result is not driven by a sample of voters who are unwilling to report support for a Republican candidate.

While the exact composition of the 2014 electorate won’t be known until the day of the election itself, our sample looks similar to the distribution of self-reported partisan identification in the 4th District in 2012.  If anything, respondents to our October Utah Voter Poll were slightly more Republican than the 2012 electorate.  Given national trends and past patterns in midterm elections, we might expect a more Republican electorate in 2014 than in 2012, but it does not appear that our result is driven by a sample of respondents that happened to skew substantially less Republican than previous elections in the district.

From our vantage point, the 4th District race is worth watching carefully.  Despite Mia Love’s considerable fundraising and name recognition advantage, this poll should be read as an indicator that the race is still competitive.  We want to emphasize again that these results have limitations, given the nature of our sampling strategy, but we do not see Love or Owens with a significant lead.  It is too early to tell whether it will come down to the 768 voters who gave Matheson a win over Love in 2012, but our evidence indicates that as of late October, the 4th District’s 2014 outcome is still in doubt.  We expect that the campaign for the small number of undecided voters in the district will be intense.


Click here to download a topline report that includes the survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates) and information about the margin of sampling error.

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2 Responses to The Current State of the 2014 Utah Campaigns

  1. Amy Lutes says:

    Your link to the survey questions doesn’t work. Please update that. I took your poll yesterday and I’m curious about the relevance of many of the questions asked.

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