Nearly 70 percent of Utahns — and more than half of the rank-and-file Republicans — oppose closing the Republican Party primary, a new poll shows.
Various Republican Party leaders and officeholders told the Deseret News, soon after the state Republican Party Convention voted last month to closed party primaries, that they feared voters could "take it out" on GOP candidates in a general election if the voters were turned away from Republican primary voting booths.
The poll shows that's a real possibility. A fifth of all voters said they will be less likely to vote for GOP candidates in a final election because they are opposed to Republicans closing their primaries.
Joe Cannon, state GOP chairman, said the party is moving ahead to implement what the delegates did. But he adds: "Those are interesting numbers. Clearly, it is troubling" that most Republicans don't want closed primaries and many political independents are less likely to vote for GOP candidates because of closed primaries.
"We're going to have to have an extensive public campaign" to educate all voters on how a closed primary works and why it makes sense, said Cannon.
Delegates to the state GOP convention in August changed the party constitution to require closed primaries. A grass-roots delegate movement, and not GOP leaders, advocated for the change to keep Democrats, independents and other minor party members from voting on Republican candidates.
Now a new poll for the Deseret News and KSL by Dan Jones & Associates finds that Utahns are resistent to the change.
Jones found that 69 percent of those surveyed strongly or somewhat oppose the Republican Party closing its primary. Twenty-two percent strongly or somewhat favor a closed primary. Nine percent didn't know.
Breaking out those who oppose a closed primary by political party affiliation shows some interesting numbers, which validate GOP leaders' concerns of the change backfiring against Republican candidates.
Jones found that 56 percent of Republicans oppose closing their own party's primary, 79 percent of Democrats oppose Republicans closing their primaries and 84 percent of independents oppose a closed GOP primary.
Republican Party officials probably don't care that Democrats oppose a GOP closed primary. After all, it was Democrats voting in the 1998 and 2000 Republican primaries that angered many GOP party faithful. And not many faithful Democrats are going to vote for a Republican in the general election anyway.
But even though Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in Utah, they still can't afford to alienate independent voters in many races. Recent gubernatorial, U.S. House and legislative elections have been so close that independent votes decided the winner.
Jones found that 25 percent of those who said they are independent voters are less likely to vote for a Republican candidate because the state party closed GOP primaries starting in 2002.
Democratic candidates lost a handful of legislative races in 2000 by less than 100 votes out of tens of thousands of votes cast. Angering 20-to-25 percent of the voters in those close contests could well have changed the outcomes.
Eighteen percent of "minor party" members — such Libertarians or Green Party members — said they were less likely to vote for GOP candidates because of the change.
Even 6 percent of Republicans said they are less likely to vote for a GOP candidate because their party closed its primary, Jones found.
Because of the GOP convention vote, the June 2002 primary election only registered Republicans will be allowed to pick up a GOP ballot. However, following state law, for that primary only someone who is registered "unaffiliated" — that is, not registered in any political party — can register as a Republican at the polls and be given a GOP ballot.
But in 2004 you can not change your party affiliation on primary Election Day at the polls. If you are not a registered Republican, you won't be able to vote in the 2004 GOP primary.