Republican voters grew their ranks by 7 percent this year, now numbering 575,401 -- a number state party leaders are all too happy about for this coming election. But that doesn’t mean it's all bad news for Utah’s outnumbered Democrats.
In a press release, Utah Republican Party Chair Thomas Wright crowed about the dividends returned by the party’s vigorous outreach efforts this year, which for the first time have more voters identifying as Republican (575,401) than unaffiliated (510,417). There are 108,645 registered Democrats in the state.
“Momentum is building as more and more Utahns feel the urgency to get involved in their community and to change the direction of this country,” Wright said in the statement.
While it may hard for Utah Democrats to see the good in their state bleeding into an deeper shade of red, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank says the reality is that the gains actually may be more neutral to Republicans, since most unaffiliated voters likely voted Republican to begin with.
“What you had is a fair number of unaffiliated voters who often vote Republican,” Burbank says. “Now, Republicans are trying to get these people to realize that if they want to participate in caucuses or primaries then they need to be registered as Republicans.”
The new outreach, while adding strength to the party, could also potentially add balance to the party, as well. One component of the party’s outreach was driven in part by politicians like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who helped do outreach so that more moderate Republicans would get involved early in the process by attending their neighborhood caucus meetings and becoming delegates. In March, roughly 125,000 Republicans attended neighborhood caucus meetings—doubling their previous attendance records. Those previous elections were also dominated by Tea Partiers, who brought more ideologically rigid -- and some would say extreme -- brands of politics into the system; the kind of extreme politics that helped ouster Sen. Bob Bennett from the 2010 state convention.
Democrats and moderates in the state can perhaps take comfort in the fact that more registered voters could mean more casual voters, who may also be less rigid and more moderate in their beliefs.
“People who have very strong political views often are those people already interested in politics and much more likely to be registered to begin with,” Burbank says. “So, I think if you are putting an effort into finding people who are not yet registered that in that process you generally target people with less of an interest in politics.”