Commentary: How did the United Utah Party fare?

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Congressional candidate Eric Eliason meets with The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018.

The election is over for 2018. For people tired of seeing negative campaign ads and candidate signs littering roadsides, it comes not a moment too soon. For political junkies, it is a brief respite before chatter begins again about the next election.

Before we leave the 2018 election behind, however, one thing to note is the appearance of something unusual this year. That is the presence of a new political party that competed across multiple races for the first time. It is time to assess how the new United Utah Party did on its first foray across the state. Some statistics might be helpful in understanding our performance.

One measure is the number of people registered with the party. A year ago the party had about 100 voters registered with the UUP. Now, we have over 1,200. Nevertheless, we are still the second smallest political party in the state, only slightly larger than the Greens.

The voters, however, consider us as something different than just another small party. One year ago, UUP congressional candidate Jim Bennett won 9 percent of the vote in a special election. That translated into a total just shy of 14,000 votes. This year, our 18 candidates, overall, won just under 10 percent of the vote in the districts where they ran. That meant they received just over 67,000 votes. That is nearly a fivefold gain over 2017 in the number of votes cast for UUP candidates. By comparison with other minor parties, the Libertarians won only 4 percent in the races where they ran, and the other minor parties did worse.

The party had two congressional candidates this year: Eric Eliason received 11 percent in the 1st District and Tim Zeidner earned 2 percent in the 3rd. Tim joined the race in July after a previous candidate withdrew and was unable to wage a vigorous campaign. Eric, however, ran throughout the year. He was even endorsed by The Salt Lake Tribune. His double-digit performance demonstrated that over 1 in 10 voters in that district were ready for a new candidate who was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but would put “country over party.”

Some of the UUP candidates got in vote ranges more typical of Democrats than minor-party candidates. Three south Salt Lake County UUP candidates received unusually high levels of support for non-major-party candidates. Michele Weeks in Draper earned 39 percent of the vote, while Amy Martz in West Jordan and Alex Castagno in Sandy garnered 33 and 32 percent, respectively.

What does this mean? It means that tens of thousands of Utah voters gave a new party a chance. Many Utah voters turned to the United Utah Party as a relief from the extremism they see in the two major parties.

The United Utah Party did not win any races this year. Minor political parties rarely do. And we are still a minor party. However, the UUP is not like other minor parties. The UUP’s performance — in terms of the number of races it competed in and the share of the vote received — is not typical of minor parties.

That is the unusual aspect of the 2018 election — the emergence of a new political party that has not attained major-party status yet, but has broken through the mold of the typical minor party that garners 2 percent to 4 percent of the vote. The United Utah Party does not yet look like either the Republicans or the Democrats. Yet it is not quite like other minor parties either.

Something unusual, and worth keeping an eye on, is happening in Utah.

Jim Urquhart | The Salt Lake Tribune Richard Davis, who is the political science professor at Brigham Young University and chair of the United Utah Party, April 6, 2010, at his office at BYU in Provo.

Richard Davis is chair of the United Utah Party.