Rep. Kevin McCarthy scratched out a victory for speaker of the U.S. House after a grueling 15 rounds of voting and a boatload of concessions to a small group of far-right Republicans.

Just over half of Utahns watched the drama play out on C-SPAN and cable news over four days last month before the California Republican flipped enough votes to secure the gavel.

And residents of the Beehive State are split over how the chaos affected their view of the Republican Party, though it remained unchanged for many, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

“When it comes to the selection of a new speaker, some of the more dysfunctional elements of the Republican Party were clear to see ... but in the end very few had a different opinion about the party after the vote,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The survey found that 52% of Utah voters very or somewhat closely followed the House speaker’s race as it unfolded on the House floor, while 19% say they didn’t follow it very closely. Another 28% didn’t pay attention to it at all.

McCarthy wins speakership in 15th round after tense standoff; agrees to ‘institutional rule changes’

Some political pundits speculated that the infighting would damage the GOP. Even Utah Rep. John Curtis, who along with the state’s three other Republican congressmen backed McCarthy from the outset, wondered if the “dysfunction” would go on for another two years.

“And no doubt if that happens, the American people will not look at that kindly,” he said as McCarthy failed in vote after vote.

For now the Republican Party seems to have weathered the early turmoil.

The poll found 42% of Utahns see the GOP about the same as they did before the longest contest for House speaker in 164 years. But 37% have much or somewhat less positive opinions as a result of how the race unfolded. Only 11% say they now have a much or somewhat more positive opinion of the party.

“It was not one of those defining moments for the Republican Party as some thought it might be,” Perry said. “It ended up being viewed more through the lens of Washington, D.C., and not a reflection of the party itself.”

Does Republicans’ struggle to elect a speaker signal dysfunction to come?

Among those in the survey who self-identified as Republicans, 19% say they have a higher opinion of the GOP, while 28% have a lower opinion. Like poll respondents overall, the view of the party didn’t change for 42% of Republicans.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 802 Utah registered voters from Jan. 23-30. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

But nearly one-third of Utahns in the poll who identified themselves as very conservative have a very or somewhat more positive opinion of the GOP after the speaker election.

That might be due in part to the concessions McCarthy made to a handful of Republican holdouts who said they wanted to fix a “broken” legislative process in the closely divided House. Some of the agreements reduce his power as speaker.

One change empowers a single lawmaker to start the process to remove the speaker. Others include a guaranteed floor vote to establish term limits for all House members; an open amendment process; a rule giving Congress new powers over federal agencies; and a rule requiring bills to be published 72 hours before they hit the floor. 

Though he expressed frustration during the week of the debate, Curtis said afterward that the longer-than-expected speaker election process brought House Republicans closer together. 

Perry said there was talk about a possible negative impact on the GOP and what it would reveal about its prospects in the future.

“Turns out it revealed nothing,” he said. “There’s a chance for the Republicans, particularly in the House, to find a way to come together and I think that they will continue to look for opportunities up through the next election.”

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Even as Republicans might have emerged more consolidated, “we will see how those relationships play out because we got to see very publicly what they were for that moment,” Perry said.

What Utah GOP congressmen are saying about Kevin McCarthy winning House speakership

A nationwide HarrisX poll for the Deseret News conducted last month shows the Republican Party and McCarthy managed to come through the speaker’s election unscathed. And voters seem to think the GOP dissenters may have had a point. 

The survey of 915 registered voters found 56% of voters said the drawn-out speakership debate was just “politics as usual” — including 8 out of 10 Republican voters and 3 out of 5 independent voters — versus 44% who said it exposed something wrong with the Republican Party.

But 41% of voters said it made the GOP weaker, while 23% said it’s stronger. Another 35% said it didn’t make a difference.

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