Party Convention Delegates More Polarized than Utah Voters

New Utah Foundation LogoDelegates meeting in Utah’s Republican and Democratic state party conventions this weekend tend to have stronger partisan views than the state’s voters at large.

A new Utah Priorities Project survey shows Utah’s Republican delegates overlap Republican voters by 76% on an ideological scale devised by the Pew Research Centers. Democratic delegates overlap Democratic voters by about 77% on the same scale.

On “hot-button” issues such as the control of public lands in the state, Democrats and Republicans diverge widely, with convention delegates taking stronger positions than many voters. An interesting difference turns up on the issue of immigration. Republicans agreed with the statement that “unauthorized immigrants have a negative effect on Utah’s economy and society.” Democrats strongly disagree, with convention delegates taking a more liberal position than voters on that question. However, delegates from both parties agree with the statement that “authorized immigrants have a positive effect on Utah’s economy.”

The survey of 973 state party convention delegates was conducted for Utah Foundation by Dan Jones and Associates. It follows a statewide survey of Utah voters and a similar survey of candidates for governor, also published as part of the Utah Priorities Project.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Democratic party delegates share the same top 10 priorities as Democratic voters. Republican delegates share 8 of 10 priorities with voters.
  • Party delegates are more ideologically polarized than voters.
  • Of the 23 hot button issues, those related to public lands show some of the greatest contrasts between Republican and Democratic delegates.
  • The phrase “authorized immigrants have a positive impact on Utah’s economy” is the only hot button issue upon which Republican and Democratic voters and delegates all agree. Of the 23 hot button issues, their levels of agreement on this topic were unique.
  • There is some misalignment in the demographic characteristics of voters and delegates, particularly in respect to gender and age. For example, only 24% of Utah’s Republican delegates are women. Among Democrats, 47% of the delegates are women.

Utah Foundation Research Analyst Christopher Collard says the report allows some insight into Utah’s political process. “Since most Utahns are Republicans or conservative independents,” Collard says, “general elections are often foregone conclusions. That puts the focus on delegates who nominate candidates, making it important to understand the differences between voters and delegates.”

Under Utah’s caucus/convention system, delegates to the Republican and Democratic state conventions have a great deal of power in the political process. Until the passage of a new state law in 2014, winning their votes was the only way a candidate could get on the primary election ballot for either party. Even after the passage of SB 54, delegates have the power to disqualify candidates who can’t find enough support and who choose not to gather voter signatures as part of the electoral process. As the parties prepare for their conventions this weekend, the role of the signature gathering process is the subject of litigation with its outcome uncertain.

The Utah Priorities Project delegate survey and other reports in the series are available on the Utah Foundation website at