If Utahns know enough to have an opinion about an initiative that would change the way the state’s voter districts are drawn, they’re twice as likely to support it than to oppose it.
But a quarter of voters don’t know where they’d fall on the proposed initiative to create an independent commission to tell lawmakers how to draw boundaries, according to a recent poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
While a slight majority of the 803 registered voters polled last month said they support the initiative, the segment that is unsure is big enough to make it a close race, according to Hinckley Director Jason Perry.
“The number of don’t-knows is what is significant in every major group that was polled,” Perry said. “There’s some educating to do on this particular issue.”
Fifty-one percent of those surveyed favor the initiative, with 24 percent strongly in support and 27 percent somewhat in favor.
Voters like the idea of changing how voting districts are drawn
Utahns like the sound of an initiative that would change the way lawmakers draw their voting districts each decade, a new survey shows. But polling in recent months shows the so-called Better Boundaries initiative is difficult for voters to understand.
Source: Dan Jones & Associates talked to 803 registered Utah voters from Jan. 15 to 18. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Twenty-four percent strongly (10 percent) or somewhat (14 percent) oppose the measure, according to the poll.
Both of those are slightly down from a Tribune survey in October, but the margin widened between those in favor and those against.
A group that includes former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has proposed the initiative amid a national debate over taking power from lawmakers to draw their own district boundaries and hand it to voters.
The initiative would create a commission that follows strict guidelines when drawing congressional and state legislative voting boundaries. Ultimate approval would still fall to the Legislature, which has constitutional authority to approve districts.
The U.S. Supreme Court also is considering a case that could prevent lawmakers from considering partisanship when carving out districts every decade. That could affect Utah, where Republicans have slightly benefited from gerrymandering, according to an analysis by The Associated Press that used software cited in the Supreme Court case.
The Republican Party’s stronghold on Utah and its domination in elections have frustrated liberals and independents hoping for a stronger voice in state and national politics.
Seventy-one percent of Utah Democrats surveyed support the initiative, while 6 percent say they’re opposed to the idea, and 22 percent are unsure.
Among the Utahns hoping for a change in the way the state conducts redistricting is Sen. Jim Dabakis, a Salt Lake City Democrat. When U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, spoke on the Senate floor the first week of the legislative session, Dabakis asked if he’d be willing to give Salt Lake City residents a voice in Washington.
“Everybody in the [Utah] delegation is like-minded and things are carved up in a way that there’s simply nobody that represents our voice,” Dabakis said. “What do you think of the possibility of getting rid of us as constituents and opening up an area that might find somebody more conducive to their particular philosophies?”
Not possible, Stewart said. Having an all-Republican congressional delegation — with districts that run from rural southern Utah to Salt Lake City — is the result of living in a Republican state.
“People often say you gerrymander to create these Republican districts,” Stewart said. “You would have to gerrymander to create a Democratic district.”
Stewart’s comments appeared to overlook the former shape of his 2nd Congressional District, which had been entirely in Salt Lake County and was considered a competitive swing district.
Currently, none of the four Utah representatives is from Salt Lake County, the state’s population center.
Forty-four percent of Utah Republicans support the independent redistricting panel, while 28 percent are opposed and 29 percent are unsure.
The AP study found it was difficult to analyze states with fewer than six or seven congressional districts. Utah’s four all are represented by Republicans.
While the initiative, if passed, could reform the process of drawing districts, some lawmakers say it may be unconstitutional.
“I heard people say there was gerrymandering” during the last redistricting process after the 2010 Census, said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who helped lead the process. “I didn’t see that.”