Thursday, November 4, 2010

Utah's Republican Hegemony

Utah again elected a Republican as governor and a Republican as United States Senator.  Both Gov. Herbert and Sen.-elect Lee won by wide 2-1 margins against moderate-to-conservative Democrats.  These are perhaps the least surprising election results since racist Democrats owned the South from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Era.  In Utah, Republicans win and they win big, particularly for governor and United States Senate, which are the big, important statewide elections.

It got me wondering when the last time was that Utahns elected a Democrat to statewide office.  It turns out that Utah has not had a Democrat in statewide office since Scott Matheson (father of current Rep. Matheson) left the governor's office in January of 1985.  That's about 26 years.  Utah has not had a Democrat in the United State Senate since Frank Moss was defeated by Sen. Hatch and left office in January of 1977.  Sen. Hatch, ironically, made a big deal that Sen. Moss' 16 years in office were too many and that he had lost touch with Utahns.  Sen. Hatch has now been a senator for about 34 years.

I then began to wonder how this Republican hegemony stacked up against other states that are perceived to be dominated by one political party.  The results were not good for Utah.  No other state has gone as long as Utah voting for a single party in the major statewide elections of governor and senator.  The results follow.

I first looked at governors.  Out of all the states in the Union, 42 have elected governors from both parties in the last 16 years (since the 1994 elections).  Those that haven't, with the last year of opposite-party control in parentheses, are:  South Dakota (last Democrat in 1978), Utah (last Democrat in 1984), Washington (Republican 1984), Oregon (Republican 1986), Delaware (Republican 1992), North Dakota (Democrat 1992), and North Carolina (Republican 1993).  Connecticut last had a non-Republican Independent governor in office in 1994, and a Democrat in 1990.  Every other state has voted for both Republicans and Democrats for governor in the past 16 years.

So I took those eight states that showed a lack of diversity in governorships and compared the last time they elected a United States Senator from the opposite party.  Connecticut was easy because while they have been voting for Republican governors for the past few years they have also been voting for Democratic senators.  Both current Connecticut senators are Democrats, and the last time they had a Republican senator in office was 1998.  So hegemony is not a problem there.

North Carolina was similarly easy in the opposite direction.  That is a conservative state but has been voting for Democratic governors consistently for years.  They have a healthy mix of both Republican and Democrat senators over the past few years and currently have one of each.

The Dakotas, I would have thought, would have been the conservative states to challenge Utah in terms of hegemony, but I was wrong.  North Dakota currently has two Democratic senators and South Dakota has one.

Delaware and Washington, a couple of liberal states, both last had Republican senators in 2000, and Oregon, another liberal state, last had a Republican senator in 2008.  That last Republican Oregon senator was Gordon Smith, a Mormon, who was defeated in the Democratic surge that year.

And that leaves Utah, who, as I mentioned earlier, last had a Democratic senator in 1976.  That means it has been 26 years since Utah last had a non-Republican hold major statewide office.  No other state comes close to that record of hegemony.  The closest competitors for this ignominious distinction are Idaho and Texas, both practicing hegemony for 16 years.  Idaho last had a Democratic governor in 1994 and last had a Democratic senator in 1980.  Texas last had a Democratic governor in 1994 (the election that George W. Bush won) and last had a Democratic senator in 1993.  Delaware and Washington, as outlined above, have seen ten years of hegemony.

This is a bad thing, as I've written about before.  It detaches the controlling party from reality in that they are not really accountable to voters and there is never a threat that their bad choices will be reflected in election results.  Most importantly, though, is that one-party hegemony suffocates opposing points of view, healthy debate, and thus democracy itself.  As the Deseret News reported recently, it also suppresses voter turnout at elections.  Utah has seen voter turnout decline for decades to go from one of the highest voter turnouts in the country to 48th out of 50 states.  Many Utahns feel that our elections are foregone conclusions, which in essence they are.  I doubt Utah has had a surprise election result in decades.

I'm sure we could dig deeper and look at state legislature control, party identification, and how close elections have been, and I'm sure they would all show that Utah is far more one-party oriented than any state in the country.  It is not hard to see why people believe that many, many Utah Republicans blindly vote for the party without studying the candidates and issues and voting with an independent mind.  If voters never knew which parties Herbert and Corroon, Lee and Granato belonged to and simply voted based on their characters and stances on the issues, I think this election would have gone much differently.  Herbert and Lee hold extreme positions on many issues whereas Corroon and Granato hold moderate positions on just about every issue.  The latter two, in my opinion, more closely represent the beliefs and positions of a majority of Utahs, unfortunately they both had a D next to their names and never stood a chance.

I've been saying for a long time that the time will come when Utahns will take a turn toward the left (or at least more towards the center) and start voting in a more balanced way.  I'm beginning to doubt myself, to be honest.  It may be that this rut will last for another 30 years, or it may be that some big scandal or decision will cause a sudden course change.  Or maybe we need some sort of Huntsman-esque Manchurian candidate type who gets elected as a popular moderate Republican and then reveals that s/he will switch parties to become a Democrat, broadening many horizons along the way.  In the meantime, the current hegemony that prevails in Utah is harmful to our state.


Scott Pug said...

To be honest, I don't think that the hegemony in Utah is really all that bad, since the population is relatively homogeneous it follows that their voting record would also be relatively homogeneous.

What is more dangerous is that as a country is that political parties are still relevant. People still think that saying I'm a Republican means there is some sort of core values that one believes in, or that saying I'm a Democrat means you'll fight for a certain cause.

I think overall, we're to the point as a country where we should have outgrown that ideal.

Political parties are like labor unions in my eyes. Historically they were necessary, but today, in practice, they are a net negative. I may be biased because I don't have a party I affiliate with, but safe to say that when I ran my own stances on issues through the VoteEasy section of to see how my views stacked with my candidates, 45% of my views identified with the Green Party candidate, 54% the Democrat candidate, 56% the Republican candidate.

So, what do I know? Evidently I'm conflicted.

Just an FYI though, when I lived in Prince Georges County in Maryland, most of the elections didn't even have Republicans on the ticket. Once the Democratic primary was over, that person was generally running unopposed.

One of the MD senate seats has been a Democrat since 1977 and the other since 1987, so it's a problem in a lot of places.

Jacob S. said...

I don't think you could every do away with political parties. People still like to identify with other people they agree with, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it is useful in order to get different ideas out into the public sphere.

The problem is with the two political parties we have now. Like I said before, and I think you might have said it too, Pug, I think we need more parties, and in particular more regional parties. That way we get more choices, more debate, and more ideas.

Anyway, I know that a one-party system is not unique to Utah, but I honestly believe Utah takes it further than any other state. It is particularly concerning where too many people take the hegemony to mean that "Republican" and "Mormon" essentially go hand in hand and are nearly synonymous.

Clark Goble said...

I think you'll find a lot of Republicans want Hatch to go as well. Had he been up for re-election rather than Bennett I bet he'd have lost in Caucus.

I disagree over the value of parties - although I think in local elections (i.e. mayoral and the like) they are pointless. I think that a party collects groups together to get compromises and a consensus. It forces consensus building at the candidate level. (Although in Parlementary systems it tends to happen afterwards with less direct choice by voters)

The downside in places like Utah or Maryland (or several other states) is that one part domination means that politicians don't get their views seriously challenged. Further voters tend to not care about non-major elections including primaries. I think this is more a fault with American laziness (and being busy) more than the political system.

Laurel Nelson said...

You forgot about Alaska. Although the record shows the last Democratic governor left office in 2002 (Tony Knowles), we have had a solid Republican delegation in the US Senate and House of Representatives for eons. The only reason we have a Democratic Senator now (Mark Begich) is because he had the fortunate good luck to run against Ted Stevens while Ted was being indicted for corruption charges. Otherwise he never would have stood a chance. The one party rule has intensified in recent years - those with a D after their name tend to lose by very wide margins here. I equate it to Utah at times (and I did live there too).

Architect said...

Think of political parties like brands. They market themselves as standing for particular ideas, priorities and economic outcomes.

Like Toyota took a hit for some bad press, so the "D" party did and fewer people want to buy what they sell.

The "D" party had two years to do what it would. (four if you count when they took over the purse strings from the "R" party in 2006). After the two years of "D" party presidency, it is clear that they are the party of protecting government and government workers first (economic stimulus went almost exclusively to governments, no Fanny & Freddy reforms in the financial reform package, 99 new government boards/commissions in the health reform package). If you are a lawyer or government worker, the "D" party is all about you.

So now we are back to brand "R". What will they do in two years? Will the "R" party go back on its pledges? Will the "R" party issue orders to subjects or give freedom to citizens?

Being in "control" of a leviathan is quite heady. "I would only use it with the purpose of doing good, but through me it would wield a power..."

natalie said...

Interesting analysis here. Any idea if there is a "political machine" to speak of in Utah? Are there bosses and such? Is evidence of such too closely connected to the church for comfort? Augh. I don't think I want to know the answers.