They don’t want tighter gun laws, either, finds a survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and the Utah Center for Public Policy & Administration.
No really big surprises there.
But the survey also found that Utahns don’t understand the current political parties’ caucus/convention system of nominating candidates.
Nearly half want to junk the whole thing and just go with an open primary ballot – where anyone who files for an office under a party label appears in a primary and voters can decide who stands under which party banner on the final election ballot in November.
Those findings are not good news for political party stalwarts, especially Republican Party state and county bosses who like the current caucus/convention system where loyal rank-and-file members, speaking through delegates, get a major say in who appears on any ballot in Utah.
The new survey, which contains more than a dozen questions, is part of the annual pre-legislative seminar sponsored by Zions Bank; the Exoro Group, a political issue/communication consulting firm; the Utah Hospital Association; the UCPPA; and UtahPolicy Daily.
The seminar was held Wednesday in the bank’s downtown office board room, with around 100 political bigwigs, lobbyists, legislators and state administrative bosses present.
The 2013 Legislature convenes Monday and runs for 45-days, ending at midnight March 14.
You can read some of the poll questions and answers at the UCPPA website: http://cppa.utah.edu/LegislativeSummit.pdf.
UtahPolicy obtained some of the other questions and responses not fully detailed at the seminar.
The poll was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, a local polling firm, from Jan. 10-15. By telephone 537 registered voters were questioned, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.
Jones found that only 20 percent of Utahns want the current caucus/convention process to stay as it is. That’s just one in five voters.
Twenty-eight percent favor keeping the current candidate nominating system, but changing state law to allow for an alternative route for a candidate to make his or her party’s primary election ballot. (This is an idea put forward by some “mainstream” Republicans and Democrats in the state.)
But most interestingly, 47 percent say do away with the caucus/convention system entirely and go to just a straight primary ballot, where all who filed would be listed and the top vote-getter would advance to the November general election as his party’s nominee.
One percent mentioned some other kind of political party candidate nomination system; while 4 percent didn’t know.
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a supporter of the alternative primary route, said looking at the new poll numbers confirms what he’s believed for some time: There is discontent among regular voters with the current caucus/convention system.
“We are the only state that still uses only this system; which is really a holdover from the 1800s in America,” said Jowers.
In fact, he said, when local state parties a decade ago lowered from 70 percent to 60 percent the threshold of a candidate winning in convention, “we’ve even gone backwards from what most other states are doing – giving more options to getting on the primary ballot for candidates and voters alike.”
The current caucus/convention system has been strongly defended by GOP leaders over the last year or so, less so defended by Democratic Party leaders.
That’s understandable, since Republicans hold most offices in the state – including the governor’s office and a large majority in the state House and Senate.
All current partisan officeholders, from county commissions and county councils all the way up to governor and U.S. senator, must go through their March neighborhood party caucuses and April and May county and state conventions, where they face delegates who vote on them.
In both the Republican and Democratic parties, if a candidate gets 60 percent of his delegate vote, he is the automatic party nominee, skips a primary and goes directly to the November general election ballot.
If in any partisan office no candidate gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, the top two vote-getters go to a late June party primary ballot, paid for by taxpayers and run by local county clerks. The winner there is the party nominee and goes to the November ballot.
In most areas of Utah there are so many GOP voters that whoever gets the party nomination routinely wins the final election.
Utah hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1984, a Democratic U.S. senator since 1976 and the both houses of the Legislature have seen huge GOP majorities since 1980.
Former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt, who spoke at Wednesday’s seminar, and other well-known Republicans who consider themselves “mainstream” conservatives, are backing a plan to provide an alternative route to a party’s primary.
Leavitt, who was the seminar’s keynote speaker, said he doesn’t want to junk the caucus/convention system altogether in favor of an open primary.
Instead, the “mainstreamers” want an alternative route to the ballot – say, if a candidate could get 2 percent of the voter signatures in the district he’s running for (more than 109,000 for a statewide office like governor or U.S. senator) he would automatically go to the party’s June primary, bypassing the caucus/convention process.
That process would still be in place, and anyone coming out of his party’s convention would go to the June primary, as well.
Leavitt said he hopes the 2013 Legislature would, on its own, pass a new law setting up such an alternative route process.
But that is unlikely.
UtahPolicy has spoken to a number of legislators over the last year, and while some privately say such an alternative route would be a good idea, publicly they say they can’t really go against their party delegates – fearing the delegates would be angry by losing their nominating power in some cases and take it out on the incumbents seeking re-election.
If the Legislature won’t act, supporters of the alternative route (which includes UPD publisher LaVarr Webb) say they will be forced to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million and run a professional citizen initiative petition effort, aiming to get the alternative route on the 2014 ballot. If it passed, in 2016 for the first time candidates could seek the voter signature route and bypass the caucus/convention process altogether.
The poll also found no overwhelming support – or opposition – to raising a number of taxes this year – whether to help struggling public schools or universities or help maintain roads.
Raising the state income tax for public and higher education was split; raising the per-gallon gasoline tax was split, 51 percent oppose, 47 percent favor; raising the state sales tax was split, 54 percent in favor, 45 percent against; or putting all of the state sales tax back on unprepared food, 50 percent favor, 45 percent oppose.
GOP legislative leaders have already said they don’t see any kind of tax hike this year.
GOP senators favor putting all of the state sales tax back on food in a revenue neutral tax shift.
But House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has told UtahPolicy that even with a write-down for low-income Utahns, such an action would still be a tax hike on middle- and higher-income Utahns and she doesn’t favor any tax hike for anyone.
And she doesn’t believe her GOP House caucus will want to raise anyone’s taxes, either.
The survey also found that, like other years, education – its funding and quality – is the top priority of Utah voters.
On guns and their regulations, Jones found that 59 percent of voters support the idea of teachers and other full time school employees carrying firearms in school, as a way of protecting themselves and their students.
Eighty-two percent said parents should know if their child’s teacher was carrying such a firearm in school.
Three out of four Utahns said that the terrible school shooting in Connecticut did not change their views on gun regulations and laws.
Only 35 percent of voters said they favor stricter gun laws; while 54 percent said they don’t favor any tighter gun control.
For those few who said their views of gun laws have changed over the last year, in most cases their views changed in favor of stricter gun control laws, Jones found.
And if the Legislature does anything with gun laws it most likely will make it easier for law abiding citizens to carry guns, several legislative leaders have told UtahPolicy.