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Pignanelli and Webb: The external factors impacting Utah races

With less than a month to go before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, we explore some of those factors that candidates can’t entirely control.
With less than a month to go before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, we explore some of those factors that candidates can’t entirely control.
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The quality of candidates and their positions on key issues are obviously critical in any political race. But external factors can also have a big impact. With less than a month to go before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, we explore some of those factors that candidates can’t entirely control.

Most of the citizen initiatives and ballot measures that will be on the statewide Utah ballot, including proposals dealing with school funding, marijuana, redistricting and Medicaid expansion, are strongly supported by moderate, liberal and younger voters. Will these proposals result in higher turnout by Democrats and help Democratic candidates?

Pignanelli: "Of all the maddening terms of art that political pundits bandy about, the most maddening might be ‘enthusiasm gap.’” — Simon Dumenco

Appropriately, millennials are mellow on marijuana. Utahns under the age of 35 overwhelmingly support legal medicinal use of cannabis. Thus, political analysts are busy ruminating a "surge" of supporters for Prop 2 and other lefty ballot efforts.

That propositions could twist election results from normal trends is an easy — but incorrect — perception. So far, there is no appearance of such additional enthusiasm in voter turnout. Recent developments between supporters and opponents of Proposition 2 could dilute any potential impact.

Proposition supporters helping Democrats is a mixed conjecture. Deep polling indicates that LDS millennials are more libertarian in social beliefs but still vaguely identify with Republicans. So any bump caused by the proposition energy will help candidates this demographic sector usually supports.

Adopting lingo of the weed culture, the “buzz” in November may be small.

Webb: Survey research confirms that the several ballot proposals tend to be more popular with moderate to liberal voters. I believe turnout will be higher than normal, but certainly not enough to create a Utah “blue wave.”

Campaign experts note that it’s difficult to motivate typical non-voters to show up and vote, including young people. Perhaps this year will be different, but not enough to make a difference in most races.

The one major contest where even a slight voting uptick among moderates and liberals could have an impact is the 4th District congressional race between Mia Love and Ben McAdams. But when the votes are counted the night of Nov. 6, Utah will remain a Republican-dominated state.

Utah’s demographics are changing with minority populations rising. In addition, young voters seem more interested this year. What will be the impact on the elections?

Pignanelli: Political observers are debating the potential increase of younger voters. Increased agitation in social media is very real but not trending in new voter enthusiasm — so far. Most Utahns now send their ballot by mail and their voting preferences can respond to events over a three-week period instead of 24 hours. This does create a volatile opportunity for millennials. Otherwise, older voters are likely to dominate turnout.

National polling indicates Democrat enthusiasm is very high. However, the Supreme Court nomination controversy is generating equal levels of excitement among the GOP. This rarely happens and may foster unexpected results across the country and in Utah.

Webb: There is some truth to this old saying: “If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain.” It’s great to be young and idealistic and liberal. I expect a slight boost in younger voters, but not enough to sway many races.

A significant gender gap exists in many political races and in incumbent approval ratings. Is the large specter of Donald Trump hanging over the election going to make a difference?

Pignanelli: As with the youth, pigeonholing gender as a voting block is precarious because other factors are in play. National polls signal a major shift among American women towards Democrats. But partisanship remains the dominant factor percolating among voter preferences.

Apparently, conservative women are forgiving the president’s verbal controversies in exchange for his policy successes. Independent and Democratic women are openly enthusiastic to vote this year and garnering the attention. Right-leaning women may be more quietly enthusiastic to express their inclinations based on the economy, security and the Supreme Court.

Webb: The Trump phenomenon has done two things: First, he has exacerbated the gender gap to proportions not seen in many years. Second, he has nationalized the election to levels also not seen in many years. Trump is less popular in Utah than in many other conservative states, and high numbers of Utah women really dislike him. The Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings have energized both sides.

The hate-Trump trickle-down effect on congressional and state races isn’t going to turn Utah blue. Most Utahns will vote for the candidate they like best, despite their feelings about Trump,

If liberal voters who embrace gender and identity politics are consistent, they should vote for Mia Love, who is both female and minority. She has also maintained an arms-length relationship with Trump. But she’s also a mainstream Republican — an unforgiveable sin in the eyes of silly liberal voters.