Utah lawmakers loved to agree in the 2017 Legislature

Most bills that make it to a vote pass comfortably with bipartisan support.

The partisan rancor that pervades national politics seldom reaches the Utah Legislature. Simply put, Republicans control such an overwhelming supermajority of seats that they have no need to fear Democrats. And since they don’t fear them, they are more open to their ideas than a newcomer to Utah politics might expect.

Many metrics reveal this pattern. We can start with each party’s batting average. Once again, Democrats passed over half their bills. They’ve done worse under more some speakers than others (take a look at the pre-Lockhart and pre-Hughes era). But their 53% bill passage rate for 2017 is downright respectable for a party that holds less than 1 in 5 seats in each chamber.

Party batting averages, 2007-2017

Let’s look at floor votes. Party line votes–that is, votes where the majority of legislative Republicans votes against the majority of legislative Democrats–are almost unheard of in the Utah Legislature. The next figure shows that only 13% of House votes and 6% of Senate votes were decided along partisan lines.

Party line voting, 2007-2017

Instead, most bills that make it to a vote pass comfortably with bipartisan support. In 2017, 93% of legislators voted together on the average House vote; it rose to 97% in the Utah Senate. That 97% figure actually marks a record in my 11-year data series. Still, it’s not far from the typical range, as you can see:

Average size of floor vote coalitions, 2007-2017

There were some doozies, of course. Here are the 12 votes decided by 8 Representatives or fewer (i.e. by 10% or less of the 75-member body) in the Utah House:

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
HB0029S04 House/ failed 37-38-0 1
HB0176 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-37-0 1
HB0348S02 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-37-0 1
HB0078 House/ failed 34-36-5 2
HB0408 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
HB0428S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 38-36-1 2
HB0178 House/ floor amendment # 1 38-34-3 4
HB0291S01 House/ floor amendment failed 35-39-1 4
HB0395S05 House/ passed 3rd reading 39-34-2 5
HB0326 House/ failed 32-38-5 6
SB0114S06 House/ substituted from # 4 to # 6 40-33-2 7
HB0156S01 House/ passed 3rd reading 40-32-3 8

And here are the 6 votes decided by 3 Senators or fewer (i.e. by 10% or less of the 29-member body) in the Utah Senate:

Bill Vote type Ayes-Nays-Absent Vote margin
SB0029 Senate/ failed 14-14-1 0
HB0099S01 Senate/ passed 2nd & 3rd readings/ suspension 15-14-0 1
SB0088 Senate/ failed 12-13-4 1
SB0115S01 Senate/ failed 13-15-1 2
HB0149S02 Senate/ passed 3rd reading 15-12-2 3
SB0115S01 Senate/ failed 13-16-0 3

Here is a longer list of close votes from each chamber, and here are more tables and charts with floor voting patterns in the Utah Legislature.

Up next: Who missed the most votes?

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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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