‘Count My Vote’ Sitting Pretty According to New Polling

Backers of the Count My Vote citizen initiative have conducted a new public opinion poll, and the results are clearly favorable towards the petition.

UtahPolicy has been given the results of the new Dan Jones & Associates survey, with 609 respondents conducted earlier this month.

I’ve been writing about, and analyzing, Jones’ surveys for 35 years.

And even though I have a conflict of interest in this area (I support a change from the caucus/convention system and work for UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb, who is on the CMV board), it’s clear from the numbers that those opposing CMV have their work cut out for them in trying to defeat the initiative petition this year.

If CMV can gather 102,000 signatures of registered voters by the April 15 deadline (with at least 10 percent of voters coming in 26 of 29 state Senate districts), a change to an open primary system will be on the 2014 general election ballot.

If voters approve, come 2016 candidates for state and federal office will no longer be vetted by their political party delegates.
Rather, any candidate who can get 2 percent of his party’s registered voters in his district (or statewide for offices like governor, attorney general and U.S. Senate) will automatically go to their party’s primary election ballot. You can read the petition here.

Understandably, CMV is hated by many party insiders – those who go to and/or are elected delegates in the election-year March neighborhood meetings.

For CMV would be taking away a cherished power – that of picking their party candidates.

Here are some of the results of the new poll, along with some observations by me:

— Only about a fifth of Utahns say they are “very familiar” with the current caucus/convention system and/or the direct primary system the CMV petition would set up.

That means that 75 percent are not that familiar with the two processes. This large group can thus be educated – a plus for either side, if you have the money to reach those voters and persuade them.

— Jones asked what’s called a “base line” question on whether you support or oppose the CMV petition.

In the first question, 21 percent like the caucus system, 48 percent like the direct primary and 31 percent don’t know or suggested some other alternative.

Jones then explained how the caucus/convention system works and how a direct primary works. He then asked the same question about both systems again.

— And Jones then found that those liking the caucus system went up from 21 percent to 25 percent.

But those liking the direct primary went up from 48 percent to 65 percent.

“Baseline” question about Caucus Convention vs. Direct Primary

As you may know, the Caucus Convention system consists of neighborhood gatherings where delegates are elected to represent the neighborhood at the State Convention. At the convention, delegates choose two candidates to represent the party in the primary election or, if one candidate receives 60% of the vote at the convention, that candidate proceeds directly to the general election as that party’s representative.

A Direct Primary is a statewide voting process in which voters cast ballots for their preferred candidates, who then proceed to the general election.

Count My Vote is a petition being circulated to the voters of the State of Utah. The initiative asks the voters to sign a petition that would allow a direct primary election of candidates instead of the current Caucus Convention system.

That’s good for the CMV backers. Given the resources of a good public advocacy campaign, those numbers show CMV can move a lot of folks into their plus column.

The “don’t knows” drop to just 10 percent in that second question, Jones found.

— Only about 40 percent of Utahns have even hard of the CMV petition or the caucus/convention issue. (Such low knowledge by the electorate on any issue that has been much publicized in the media is always depressing for political scientists, political journalist and civic leaders, for it shows most Utahns aren’t paying much attention to government and politics.)

— A series of questions show that there appears to be a hardcore of around 20 percent to 25 percent of folks who want to keep the caucus/convention system, and they won’t sign the CMV petition.

— Fifty-seven percent said they would sign the petition today, if asked to do so.

Eighteen percent said they don’t know whether they would sign or not.

But in a way, that’s good news for CMV. For it shows that 75 percent of Utahns either already support CMV or may be persuaded to do so – if CMV can reach those undecideds and turn their opinions.

(Again, having enough money and organization to reach those undecided is important.)

— Even among those 25 percent who said they won’t sign, there is a ray of hope for CMV backers. Sixty percent said they just plain like the current caucus/convention system, and won’t be voting for a direct primary.

But 16 percent said they didn’t know enough about a direct primary to support it. Can they be turned by CMV?

— Even though 2012 saw the greatest turnout to neighborhood caucus meetings ever (there were several unique reasons for this), only 25 percent of those polled said they went to their 2012 caucuses.

— Three out of four Utahns said they did not attend their 2012 caucuses.

Thus that great majority did not participate in the selection of Democratic and Republican state convention delegates – and subsequently had little say in the
convention outcomes.

This is one of the major complaints about the current candidate selection process made by CMV backers.

— Among those who attended their 2012 caucuses, only 11 percent were elected delegates, and thus participated directly in early vetting of their party candidates.

Currently, both the Democratic and Republican parties have the same convention rules: If a candidate can get 60 percent or more of his delegate votes, he is automatically this party’s nominee and he doesn’t face a primary.

In many races in Utah, the Republican nominee is the defacto winner – either the Democratic nominee has no real chance of winning in November or that minority party doesn’t even have a general election candidate.

To summarize, the poll finds that before the caucus/convention system and direct primary process is explained to Utahns, 21 percent like the current caucus system and 48 percent want to go to a direct primary – a more than two-to-one advantage for CMV.

Thirty percent either don’t know or mentioned some other alternative.

After the caucus/convention system and direct primary are explained, 25 percent favor the caucus system and 65 percent favor a direct primary, with 10 percent don’t know or mention some other alternative.

Two final observations not included in the new poll:

1) As reported in UtahPolicy last week, the Utah Republican Party has decided not to run an alternative citizen initiative petition to CMV this year. That means on the November ballot CMV stands alone – you either vote for a direct primary or you don’t.

2) CMV, backed by a number of big-name Republicans and Democrats, raised in 2013 more than $800,000.

The anti-CMV group, mainly made up of party loyalists and insiders who like the caucus/convention system, raised less than $10,000.

From financial and public support positions – detailed in the new Jones poll – CMV clearly has the lead going into the final stages of a public campaign moving Utah from a caucus/convention system to a direct primary system this year.

Assuming CMV gets the number of signatures they need, sometime this summer the group will begin the public persuasion part of their petition drive – trying to convince Utah voters to take candidate elections out of party conventions and put them directly into a primary election.