Recent delegate and voter surveys find the Tea Party may be all partied out this election, and that “states’ rights” might not be the battle cry it once was. That's good news for moderate candidates going into the State Republican Convention this weekend, and possibly bad news for others.
Research nonprofit the Utah Foundation released a pair of surveys leading up to this weekend’s state conventions that indicate that Utah delegates and voters may be becoming more moderate. In a report released Tuesday, the Utah Foundation noted that 19 percent of Utah voters surveyed supported the Tea Party, down from 37 percent of Utahns in 2010. In that same time period, the report found that in 2010, 55 percent of Utahns considered themselves moderates while the number has in 2012 inched up to 58 percent.
The report is also the first to compare delegate responses versus voters, having conducted the first survey in 2010. It was a year when the Tea Party star was on the rise and the insurgent voice in the party ousted incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett at state convention. According to the new report, the most “pronounced” change in delegate opinions came in regard to the question of whether it was “valuable for the state of Utah to reelect its current U.S. Senators and Representatives to maintain seniority in the U.S. Congress.” In 2010, only 17 percent of Republican delegates agreed with the statement that seniority was important, compared to 2012 where 44 percent of delegates agreed.
The report credits in part the work of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s campaign in electing delegates to the convention. Massive turnout at the caucuses helped soften the edge of party activists, as the report notes 125,000 individuals attending Republican caucuses this year, compared to over 58,000 in 2010.
In a report released on April 6, the Utah Foundation compared voters' priorities to those of the six Republican candidates for Governor, noting that out of a score of 5 points, the candidates ranked states' rights at 5, compared to Republican voters ranking states’ rights at 3.75 and voters overall ranking the issue 3.45.
The lackluster numbers for Tea Party enthusiasm and states' rights could be a concern for a number of candidates, but David Kirkham, the Utah Tea Party Founder who is also campaigning for Governor, isn't bothered by the results. “People are still very concerned about overspending; people are still concerned about over-regulation,” Kirkham says. “Things really haven’t changed.”
The list of those who have also made states’ rights and Tea Party politics a foundation of their campaign includes former legislator Carl Wimmer and Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, both of whom co-founded Utah’s states’ rights advocacy group the Patrick Henry Caucus. Sumsion is currently challenging Gov. Gary Herbert for his seat, while Wimmer is making a run for the open 4th Congressional Seat.
Adam Brown, a political-science professor at Brigham Young University, says that at least with the states’-rights issue it’s hard to judge since that survey lacks historical polling. “It's possible that voters have never been as enamored of all this states'-rights stuff as office holders are,” Brown writes via e-mail. “So maybe it's becoming a tired issue with voters, or maybe it never was a major issue with voters in the first place.”
University of Utah political-science professor Matthew Burbank says the states’-right crowd was always a smaller, more vocal crowd in the conservative tent. As for why candidates for Governor would stress states' rights more than voters, Burbank says it’s natural to running for statewide office. “For gubernatorial candidates to say that ‘I’m for states’ rights,’ well, if you’re running for governor, how could you be opposed to that?” Burbank asks with a laugh.
Even on issues of access to public lands, the gubernatorial candidates ranked them 4.67 out of 5 in importance, compared to 3.36 for Republican voters and 3.23 for all voters. Burbank says that the different prioritizing of issues between candidates and voters is just a result of politicians emphasizing issues that can be easily conveyed to a wide audience. “I don’t think [public lands] is a serious issue,” Burbank says. “It’s an issue lots of Representatives can jump on board with, but what’s lacking from it is a clear plan,” on taking back federal lands, Burbank says. “But this is an election year and you tend to go with the bumper-sticker slogan rather than detailed analysis.”
For the full April 17 Utah Foundation Report on delegate and voter priorities, click here.