Richard Davis: Are Utahns really all that conservative?

(Laura Seitz | Deseret News, pool) Governor Gary R. Herbert speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

In his most recent news conference, Gov. Gary Herbert called Utah a “conservative state.” He used the term to explain why he does not favor stricter measures to combat COVID-19. Reporters did not seem to challenge his assertion.

But is Utah really a conservative state? Are Utahns really conservatives? Granted, at one time Utah was considered one of the “reddest” states in the nation. Yet recent evidence suggests that may no longer be true.

For example, a Gallup survey of Utahns conducted two years ago found that 41% of Utahns self-identified as “conservative.” Another 40% said they were “moderate,” and 15% chose “liberal.” That meant a majority of Utahns did not consider themselves “conservative.”

On specific issues, Utahns are not as conservative as one might think. While the conservative position is opposition to tax increases, public opinion surveys have found that a majority of Utahns are willing to pay higher taxes to boost education spending. Boosting your own taxes does not sound very conservative.

Similarly, Utahns depart from conservatives on immigration policy. A Dan Jones and Associates survey in 2018 found that 56% of Utahns supported making it easier for immigrants to legally enter the United States. This is particularly striking, given the Trump administration’s tightening of legal immigration over the past four years.

On another issue, the Equal Rights Amendment has been a longtime symbol of a culture war — with liberals supporting the amendment and conservatives opposing it. However, a poll of Utahns earlier this year found that nearly three-fourths of Utahns supported ratifying the amendment. Republicans generally opposed ratification, but independents and Democrats voiced support.

All of these facts may help explain how Utahns may vote in this year’s election. If a recent poll of Utah voters holds out in the actual election, 40% of Utah voters will vote for the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. That would be the largest vote for a non-Republican (and nonconservative) presidential candidate in Utah since 1968. And it would be much larger than the expected Biden vote in other “red” or conservative states such as Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Yet Herbert asserts that Utah is a “conservative” state. And it is likely most Utah Republican elected officials, particularly legislators, would say the same. That is because they are strongly conservative themselves.

Another reason is whom they depend on for their reelection bids. Most Republican elected officials in Utah run primarily within the Republican Party conventions and primaries. Those are dominated by conservatives. As a result, they view the electorate is conservative as well, even though it is not.

But these surveys show that most Utah voters are not conservative. If anything, they have become moderate. In fact, there are nearly as many “moderate” voters as there are conservative ones.

Utah voters should consider that when voting, particularly this year. That’s because this year they don’t have to choose between two extremes. In the past, there was only a choice between the more liberal Democratic Party candidates and the more conservative Republican candidates.

This year, however, voters will have another option — a moderate candidate offered by the United Utah Party. As moderate alternatives, the UUP candidates reflect the views of a large proportion of Utah voters who do not fit into the conservative or liberal camps.

Despite what Herbert and many Republican leaders think, Utah isn’t really a conservative state anymore. It is just as accurate to call it a moderate state. And, if that is the case, our elected officials should reflect that.

Richard Davis

Richard Davis is the chair of the United Utah Party.