Half of all Utahns believe the Utah State Republican Party’s continued opposition to SB54 is for the benefit of party leaders themselves, not rank-and-file members, nor even the party delegates, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.
Dan Jones & Associates asked several questions in his latest survey for the political newsletter aimed at determining Utahns feelings about SB54 – the controversial candidate nomination law – which the state GOP has already taken to federal court, and will soon join with state election officials in seeking further judicial review by the Utah Supreme Court.
SB54 was a 2014 compromise between the Count My Vote citizen petition initiative backers, the GOP-controlled Legislature, and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.
The state GOP was NOT part of the deal and has opposed SB54 at every turn.
Herbert told a meeting of the party’s Central Committee that he now regrets signing SB54 into law – because of all the lawsuits filed and hard feelings it has caused inside Utah’s largest political party.
If he had to do it over again, said Herbert, he would have vetoed the bill and let the CMV initiative process go forward – and Utah voters would have decided the issue at the 2014 general election.
Polls at the time showed most Utahns favored the CMV petition, which would have stopped party delegates from picking party nominees and thrown all candidates into party primary elections for voters to decide.
In his new survey, Jones – who has polled in Utah for 40 years – finds that Utahns, in general, are skeptical of the motivations of state Republican Party leaders.
Republican rank-and-file members, however, are more accepting of the leaders’ actions on SB54, the survey shows.
Jones also finds that Utahns still favor SB54 – as other polling has shown over the last two years.
Some of the findings in the latest survey:
- 57 percent of Utahns support SB54, and it’s signature-gathering candidate alternative to getting on a party’s primary ballot.
- A quarter of Utahns (25 percent) like the state Republican Party’s alternative of having delegates selecting party nominees.
- 8 percent mentioned some other way of picking party nominees.
- And 11 percent “didn’t know.”
Among only Utah Republicans:
- 41 percent favor SB54’s petition gathering route to the primary.
- 39 percent favor the convention delegates making the candidate picks.
- 8 percent mentioned some other path to the party nomination, and 12 percent didn’t know.
Utah Democrats really like SB54 finds Jones.
Three-quarters said they favor the candidate petition-gathering route, only 5 percent of Democrats like party delegates picking candidates, 8 percent favored some other route and 12 percent didn’t know.
Democrats currently hold open primaries; unaffiliated (independent) voters can cast ballots in a Democratic primary.
But Utah Republicans close their primaries – only a registered Republican can vote in a GOP primary, even though it is run by local governments and paid for with tax dollars.
So it is understandable that Utah political independents favor SB54’s candidate signature-gathering route, since they can vote in the Democratic Party and, if they register as a Republican, they can vote in the GOP primary.
Jones finds that 71 percent of independents like SB54, only 13 percent like the GOP delegate/convention picking party candidates, 11 percent of independents want some other kind of candidate vetting, and 5 percent didn’t know.
Who, exactly, are Republican Party leaders looking out after in their continued opposition to SB54?
Jones asked that question, and he finds:
Among all Utahns:
- 50 percent said GOP leaders are looking out for themselves.
- 14 percent said party leaders are looking out for the delegates, who are chosen in election-year neighborhood caucuses.
- 22 percent said GOP leaders are looking out after the rank-and-file party members.
- 13 percent said they don’t know who party leaders are looking out for.
The Republican rank-and-file – those who self-identified as members of the Utah Republican Party in Jones’ poll – are more understanding of their party leadership.
- 34 percent of party members said their party leaders are looking out after the benefit of themselves.
- 33 percent said leaders are looking out after the sake of the rank-and-file.
- 17 percent said leaders are considering only delegates in their opposition to SB54.
- 16 percent of Republicans said they don’t know who party leaders are looking out after.
So even among rank-and-file Republicans, only one-third believe party leaders have regular Republicans in mind in the SB54 fight.
Democrats and independents aren’t buying that GOP leaders are looking out after their own rank-and-file membership.
- 68 percent of Democrats say Republican leaders are looking out after themselves, 65 percent of political independents say the same.
Why would GOP leaders, or the rank-and-file members, even care what Democrats and independents think?
Well, in many Utah elections they wouldn’t – there are so many Republicans in the district or county it wouldn’t matter what non-Republican voters thought. There are enough GOP voters to carry the election by themselves.
But in some legislative districts and county races – and in Utah’s 4th Congressional District – it does matter what independents think, for independents often decide the partisan elections.
Republicans are at a high-water mark in the Utah House and Senate.
And it only makes sense that they may give back some seats to Democratic candidates in swing districts come 2016.
Not enough to take control in either legislative body, but enough to give the minority party some more power on small issues or a few bills or budget items.
Jones also asked Utahns if they like or oppose parties having open or closed primaries.
Forty-eight percent said they like SB54’s open primary requirement (now struck down by a federal judge), 44 percent said they oppose open primaries and 9 percent didn’t know.
Republicans oppose an open primary (58-32 percent); Democrats favor an open primary (74-17 percent); and political independents favor an open primary, where they could vote (62-32 percent).
Republican Party leaders, in opposing SB54, say they are only trying to defend their party’s strong “brand” among Utah voters.
In short, GOP leaders want to make sure that only candidates who believe in the party’s platform and traditional Republican values can run under the party banner.
Also, all current Utah GOP officeholders have gone through the delegate/convention system – and Utah is one of the best-managed states in the Union.
Thus, the current candidate-vetting process has served the state well, GOP leaders say.
But CMV supporters – which include some big-name Republicans like former Gov. Mike Leavitt – maintain that the delegate/convention system has lead to many Utahns feeling shut out of the electoral process.
Utah’s voter participation has gone from one of the highest in the nation in the 1970s and 1980s to one of the lowest today.
The delegate process results in GOP officeholders being further to the right, Democratic officeholders further to the left, than mainstream members in both parties, CMV advocates claim – and voters feeling their votes don’t matter.
In any fixes to SB54 – either in a December special session or in the 2016 general legislative session, which starts in late January – the fundamental question before GOP lawmakers and Herbert is whether to do what state Republican Party leaders want or do what most Utahns want concerning a candidate’s petition-gathering route to the primary elections and/or the party convention route to the taxpayer-paid-for primary elections.
In his new survey, Jones polled 624 adults from Nov. 5-14; with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.92 percent.
You can see the full crosstabs here.