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Poll: Utah GOP delegates more moderate than two years ago

Orrin Hatch close to clinching nomination; Jim Matheson edging out Carl Wimmer.

First Published Apr 17 2012 03:01 pm • Last Updated Apr 18 2012 07:31 am

Doubling attendance at party caucuses this year produced Republican state delegates whose views are more moderate and far more in line with voters than in the past, according to a poll of delegates and voters released Tuesday by the Utah Foundation.

The same poll also says Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert are close to the 60 percent of delegate votes needed at Saturday’s GOP convention to avoid a primary, but the margin of error in the poll makes that still too close to call.

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Meanwhile, the poll predicts that U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz will easily avoid primaries. And it finds that the person who most Republican voters favor in the 4th District U.S. House race is, surprisingly, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, though he barely edges former state lawmaker Carl Wimmer.

GOP delegates, though, favored Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love in the 4th District, with 38 percent support, followed by Wimmer at 25 percent and ex-state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom at 18 percent.

Analysis by the foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, said a primary election is likely between two of the Republicans, but due to the large margin of error, (9.1 percent) it is difficult to predict which two.

In the 2nd Congressional District, the poll says Chris Stewart has support of 34 percent of delegates, compared to 21 percent for former Utah House speaker David Clark.

Those findings are based on polls conducted for the foundation by Dan Jones and Associates of both voters and delegates — and how they view 21 different issues — which was conducted between March 30 and April 9.

"The surge in caucus attendance for both parties, especially for Republicans, has proven to have elected a group of more moderate convention delegates," said Steve Kroes, president of the Utah Foundation. He adds that "delegates are more representative of voters overall" than they were two years ago.

The Foundation noted in its written analysis that the caucus system has been under fire because GOP delegates especially did not always seem to represent the will of the party’s voters — such as when conventions ousted Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 and Gov. Olene Walker in 2004 despite high poll ratings for those incumbents.

Amid that, even the LDS Church for weeks this year repeatedly urged members to attend saying caucuses are more representative if more people participate. They’re also more Mormon, according to the poll, making up 92 percent of GOP delegates, up from 78 percent two years ago.

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"In 2010, Republican voters and Republican delegates were very different," said Morgan Lyon Cotti, research director for the foundation. That year, she said delegates were focused on gun rights, federal lands and preventing illegal immigration —"three things Republican voters didn’t care about. They were focused on crime and education."

But this year, she said GOP delegates and voters agree on four of their top five priorities, although they rank them a bit differently. However, voters this year list improving the quality of education as one of their top five priorities, but delegates did not. And delegates listed allowing mining and grazing on federal lands as a top priority, but voters do not.

She said another big change is how delegates value re-electing members of Congress to maintain seniority. The number of delegates who believe it is important changed from 17 percent in 2010 — when Bennett was dumped — to 44 percent now as Hatch faces re-election.

"We can attribute that to several things. We don’t have the anti-incumbent surge of the tea party anymore. … This could also signal that Senator Hatch has been successful in recruiting delegates and working with delegates to ensure his re-election," Lyon Cotti said. She noted that support of the tea party among GOP delegates also fell from 55 percent two years ago to 25 percent now.

Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said while greater participation brought delegates with views closer to most voters, a gulf still remains. They are still far apart on things such as pollution, gay rights and global warming. Also, he said only 25 percent of GOP delegates are women, and most delegates in both parties are older — suggesting young people are not participating.

In races that delegates will help decide on Saturday at state party conventions, the poll found Hatch had support of 61 percent of delegates — just above the 60 percent needed to avoid a primary. But the margin of error in the poll makes it too close to call. Trailing Hatch most closely is Dan Liljenquist, with 20 percent support among delegates.

On the Democratic side, businessman Pete Ashdown has support of 39 percent of Democratic delegates and former state Sen. Scott Howell has 31 percent. The foundation analysis said the pair will likely face off in the primary election. Pollster Jones said that may actually help Democrats by bringing more attention to their side of the race.

The poll says Herbert has 61 percent of delegate support, but the margin of error makes it too close to call on whether he can avoid a primary. The next closest GOP candidate is Morgan Philpot with 12 percent support of delegate support. Peter Cooke is the one Democrat in that race.

In the 4th Congressional District, the poll said Democrat Matheson is supported by 23 percent of GOP voters — trailed by Wimmer at 22 percent.

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