Poll: Salt Lake City Voters Aren’t Paying Attention to Mayoral Debates

Wanna know why a billboard company has stepped into the Salt Lake City Mayoral race? It's easy – because it's a sure-fire way to get the attention of voters. Heaven knows they sure aren't paying attention to the umpteen debates the five candidates have had so far in this race. 

 
In our latest UtahPolicy.com survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, we asked a very simple question: have voters watched or listened to any of the mayoral debates during the primary campaign?
 
The answer was a resounding "no."
 
Just under 1/4 of Salt Lake City residents say they have watched a debate, while a whopping 76% says they haven't.
 
 

 
That's a paltry number to be sure.
 
This year's election is mostly a vote-by-mail affair. Even those respondents who told us they were likely to cast a ballot are not watching the debates. Just 29% of that group has listened to the candidates discuss the issues. 
 
The two demographic groups paying the most attention to the debates are those between the age of 35 and 44 and elderly residents over the age of 65. Just 28 and 31% of those age groups, respectively, say they have watched any of the mayoral debates.
 
It's certainly not for a lack of opportunity. There have been more than a dozen debates or forums during the primary campaign. But, less than a quarter of the 191,000 residents in the city have focused their eyeballs on those events.
 
In the age where candidates can communicate directly with voters online and through social media, the live debate seemingly has lost its importance. It's become a high-risk, low-reward endeavour for candidates – a minefield of potential gaffes. But candidates participate because they're expected to. Refuse to show up at a debate and you look bad, plus your opponents can spend the evening teeing off on you without retort.
 
Certainly, trying to hold a debate with five candidates is not easy. The only televised debate so far was a confusing affair that did not allow for an in-depth discussion of the issues. 
 
That's why the independent PAC that started buying billboards promoting Jackie Biskupski, then added the other non-incumbent candidates about a week later, is such a big issue in this campaign. If nobody is paying attention to the debates, what are they paying attention to? That's why residents are being bombarded with billboards and mauled by mailers as they get closer to the primary election day on August 11.
 
There's one other possible reason voters aren't watching debates. It falls right at the end of summer when people are finishing up their vacations and getting ready to send kids back to school. In August, elections usually aren't on the minds of voters.
 
The adage in politics is voters don't start paying attention to politics until after Labor Day. By the time that happens, the field in Salt Lake City will have been winnowed down from five to the final two. Meaning three candidates will have been jettisoned without a chance to really make their case to those casting ballots.
 
The survey was conducted July 7-21, 2015. 401 registered Salt Lake City voters were contacted via telephone and online means. It has a margin of error of +/-4.88%