Poll: When Should Utah Hold the Primary Election

Voter StickersUtahns are split over on what date the primary election should be held, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.

But only a fourth like the current date – the fourth Tuesday in June (which is tomorrow), finds Dan Jones & Associates, the state’s leading pollster.

Voter turnout at Utah’s primary elections has not been very good for several decades – although with the advent of mail-in-ballots (like this year’s contest) voter turnout has been increasing.

Some argue that the date of the primary election – toward the end of June when families are beginning their summer vacations and other distractions – is one reason for poor voter turnout.

In a new UtahPolicy survey, Jones finds that just 24 percent of Utahns like the late-June primary election date.

  • 26 percent said they would rather hold the primary election in May.
  • 13 percent preferred August.
  • 26 percent said September.
  • And 11 percent didn’t know.

At one time Utah used to hold primaries in August, then in September.


If you combine Jones’ late summer/early fall possibilities, one finds that 39 percent of Utahns would prefer a later primary election.

But the results clearly show a majority of Utahns don’t favor one primary election date over another.

Way back in the early 1980s GOP state bosses were worrying that the then-popular Democratic Gov. Scott M. Matheson may decide to run for a third term.

In the 1980 and 1976 gubernatorial elections – with the primary in late summer – the two Republican Party candidates for governor had had all summer running against each other – beating each other up, so to speak – before facing Matheson in the November final election.

The result was Democratic wins in 1976 and 1980.

The thinking by Capitol Hill Republicans was that the party needed less time in a primary race and more time in a general election race if they were going to beat Matheson in 1984.

So, the GOP-controlled Legislature changed the primary election date – moving it back into summer months – although the dates did vary a bit over the years since.

Ultimately, Matheson decided to retire, and then-state House Speaker Norm Bangerter won the GOP nomination and the final election. No Democrat has held the governor’s office since.

As you can see from this chart, 20 states now have their primary elections in August or later in the year, while 14 states have their primaries in June.

Jones finds a preference (but not a majority) to moving the current June primary date to later in the year (August or September) among the different partisan groupings, as well:

  • 40 percent of Republicans want the later primary dates, 24 percent like late June, 26 percent like May, and 10 percent of Republicans don’t know.
  • 35 percent of Democrats like later primaries, 22 percent like June, 31 percent like May, and 12 percent don’t know.
  • 38 percent of political independents (who under current rules can only vote in the Democratic Party primary, not the Republican Party primary) like a later primary date, 24 percent like the current June date, 25 percent would prefer a May primary, and 14 percent don’t know.

The later primary date, of course, would allow for a shortened, official election season.

While any candidate can declare for an office whenever he or she wants (GOP gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson declared his run against GOP Gov. Gary Herbert way back in the fall of 2015), a later primary date could allow for subsequent candidate filings, a later neighborhood caucus date and even a summer date for the county and state party delegate conventions (now held in April).

For example, a late August primary date would allow for a mid-July state convention, a June candidate filing deadline, and a late May caucus meeting date – shortening the election season by as much as two months.

That would make running for office less time consuming, and perhaps less expensive – although the cost of Utah political campaigns has been steadily rising for years.

Jones polled 614 adults from June 8-17. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.