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Is there a bluish tinge to Utah’s congressional districts?

SHARE Is there a bluish tinge to Utah’s congressional districts?

A podium stands at the ready at the start of an election night event for Republican candidates at the Utah Association of Realtors building in Sandy on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Utah’s congressional delegation is all Republican, but could change be coming? With a closely divided U.S. House, and with redistricting this year, the political parties will be battling for every seat. Local and Washington, D.C., pundits are assessing the situation. We join in on the fun.

The respected Cook Political Report recently analyzed the nation’s congressional districts based on presidential election results. It concluded all of Utah’s seats are among the “most Democrat-trending” districts. Is this just some statistical quirk or is an actual trend occurring? 

Pignanelli: “The essential feature of statistics is a prudent and systematic ignoring of details.” — Erwin Schrodinger  

Regardless of whether two, three or four glasses of wine are consumed in an evening, the net effect is the same — I am more obnoxious. A similar statistical analysis can be utilized in evaluating the Cook judgment on Utah.

Despite repeated admonitions, national pundits do not fully account for the presence of Donald Trump on the ballot to diminish GOP support in just that race. The 2016 three-way presidential race (including Evan McMullin in 2016) and the 2020 contest are unhelpful indicators of partisan shift. The governor’s race provides a superior evaluation with Gary Herbert winning 66.7% in 2016 and Spencer Cox capturing 63% in 2020.

However, as conjectured in previous columns, the 2020 legislative races did reveal some partisan shifts in Salt Lake County. In addition to a gain of one legislative seat, several other incumbent Republican lawmakers experienced very close races. But this may also signify that local growth and lifestyle issues are prompting some voters to experiment with both parties.

Veteran observers (a nice word for hacks like me) are noticing that the real new trends are revealed in how Utah GOP officials are responding to societal challenges, and oftentimes including Democrats in deliberations.

The numerical additions of high-octane imbibing offer little insight to my level of loathsome behavior. Equally irrelevant are the recent presidential preferences. Because the net effect is conserved, other factors are better indexes.

Webb: Trump, a deeply flawed candidate, won 58% of the vote in Utah in the last presidential election, which is quite remarkable. Democrats also lost the 4th Congressional District to Republican Burgess Owens. Thus, Utah remains a strong Republican state. 

Owens is likely the only vulnerable member of Utah’s delegation. He won’t have Trump to get the base out, but he also won’t have Trump to alienate moderate Republicans. So the Trump factor may be a wash. But Owens will need to keep the GOP base energized while solidifying support among mainstream Republicans and winning some unaffiliated votes.   

The race outcome will depend, of course, on a Democratic nominee. Former Democratic congressman Ben McAdams remains a formidable opponent.

It will also depend on the national political environment. Will Utah voters tire of the big-government leftist lurch of the Biden administration and Democratic Congress? Or are they enjoying the free money being showered upon them so much that they will vote for more of it?

Will the redrawing of congressional district boundaries by the Legislature next October enhance or deflate any of these supposed trends?

Pignanelli: An interesting, but ignored, section of the this Cook Report publication is the conclusion that gerrymandering is not the sole reason in the decline of swing congressional districts. They suggest voters’ “natural geographical sorting” contributes much to the polarization.

Complete census information is still pending. Meanwhile, drawing boundaries to promote or avoid these trends would be extremely difficult — but not impossible. The good news is that the decennial redistricting process is a wild and bumpy process. Get ready to be entertained.

Webb: In 2020, Trump won every county in Utah, most by substantial margins, except Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties. Summit and Grand are small, so Salt Lake becomes the battleground for Republicans to maintain control of all four congressional seats.

Progressives will want to carve out a safe Democratic district with perhaps Salt Lake City and West Valley City as the center. Republicans will want to carefully divide up Salt Lake County to dash those Democratic dreams.

A challenge for Democrats is the fact that the old, stable Democratic neighborhoods of Salt Lake County are going to lose representation because growth has dramatically shifted to the GOP strongholds of Utah County and southwestern Salt Lake County.

So far, is there any indication that the usual dynamics of midterm elections will not occur in 2022?

Pignanelli: In the past 70 years, the sitting president’s party lost seats in one or both houses every election but two (1998, 2002). The administration’s approval ratings will be a major factor.   

Webb: Biden is nice, calm and reassuring. But he and the Democratic Congress are betting the farm that voters will embrace the return of big government and the unprecedented federal largesse pouring into the pockets of citizens, local governments, state governments and businesses.

But with the leftward cultural shift also comes higher taxes, more regulation, demoralized police departments, protests and riots, gargantuan debt, accusations of systemic racism, political correctness, cancel culture, gender confusion, increased crime, dysfunctional immigration, and calls to eliminate the filibuster, pack the Supreme Court, federalize elections, pay reparations, and make Washington, D.C., a state.

With control of the House and Senate at stake, voters will have a clear choice in 2022.