Poll: Support for Caucus System is Below 20%

The Utah State Republican Party has sued state government over a new law that provides a dual-track process for candidates to get on a party’s primary ballot, yet a new poll shows that only 19 percent of rank-and-file GOP voters want to keep the old caucus/convention system, favored by Republican insiders.

The new Dan Jones & Associates survey was discussed Friday morning at the 6th annual pre-legislative conference sponsored by the Exoro consulting group and Zions Bank.

Utah State University also participated in the new survey, which next week will be detailed in a number of UtahPolicy stories. So stay tuned.

Here’s a taste of just one of the interesting poll results.


Jones asked respondents to think about Utah’s caucus and convention system for nominating county, state and federal candidates and gave them three possible alternatives:

 Would you prefer (1) to keep the system created last year that preserves the caucus system but also allows candidates to get on the ballot by gathering signatures (SB54), or (2) return to the caucus convention system as it worked before, which allows no way to get on the ballot except through the caucus convention process, or (3) to eliminate the caucus convention system entirely and replace it with a direct primary election for all candidates.

The first alternative is SB54, the “grand compromise” law passed in the 2014 Legislature. The state GOP is now suing in federal court to get that law overturned.

The second alternative is how party candidates were picked for years, before the Count My Vote citizen initiative petition advocated for the third alternative, which did away with the caucus/convention process completely and would move Utah to an open primary process where all candidates who filed for a party’s nomination would appear on the primary ballot.

The Utah State Republican Party’s governing body, the 180-member Central Committee, has over the last several years voted time and again to keep the old caucus/convention system.

Party loyalists say that is the best system, since it allows relatively unknown and under-financed candidates to appeal to a select few party delegates, picked in neighborhood party caucus meetings.

In contested races, if a candidate can get 40 percent of the delegate vote, he or she advances to a primary. If a candidate can get 60 percent of the delegate vote in convention, then all other candidates are eliminated and that person is the party nominee and advances to the general election ballot.

But CMV supporters argue that the old caucus/convention system produces more Republican rightwing candidates, and more ultra-liberal Democratic candidates, resulting in officeholders who don’t represent the moderates in their political parties.

Now the new survey shows that only 19 percent of rank-and-file GOP voters support the party bosses’ position of keeping the old caucus/convention system.

Forty-four percent of Republicans support the new SB54 dual-track law, Jones found.

While 29 percent of Republicans favor the Count My Vote petition, which would have junked the caucus/convention candidate nominating process all together in favor of a direct primary system – where all candidates who filed for an office, and gathered the required number of voter signatures, would get on the party’s primary ballot.

Jones found that 8 percent of GOP voters didn’t have an opinion.

The overall poll was of 715 registered voters, conducted from Dec. 22 to Jan. 10, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.66 percent.

Breaking out just the Republicans in the poll finds 333 party members responding, with a margin of error around 7 percent.

Jones found that 63 percent of Democrats like the CMV direct primary route, only 4 percent like the old caucus/convention system and 24 percent like the SB54 dual track candidate route.

With only 4 percent of Democrats liking the old caucus/convention system may be one reason – maybe the main reason – why State Democratic Party leaders several weeks ago held a press conference to say the party now supports SB54 and doesn’t want to return to the old delegate-driven candidate selection process.

Utah’s independent voters can today cast a ballot in a Democratic primary, but they can’t vote in the closed GOP primary unless they convert to the Utah Republican Party and register as such.

Jones found that only 9 percent of independents like the old caucus/convention process, 30 percent like the SB54 dual track process and 56 percent prefer the CMV direct primary option – which would eliminate the caucus/convention system all together.

Finally, among all voters, 14 percent say go back to the old caucus/convention system, 36 percent like the SB54 dual track and 43 percent like the CMV direct primary process.