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Utah: Most Religiously Polarized Electorate (Part 1 of 4)

I’m excited to introduce Rod Decker.  If you’ve lived in Utah, you probably know who he is since he was a staple of KUTV Channel 2 News for nearly four decades.  Rod recently retired, which has given him time to put together a political history of Utah.  Utah has been known as the most reliably republican state in the nation, but at one time, Utah was a swing state.  Rod will tell us how that change occurred.

Political science professor Frank Jonas taught at the University of Utah. There was a saying, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” because Maine was on the very east coast and its returns came in first. People watched Maine and they thought usually the nation went that way. He made a joke about it. He said, “As the nation goes, so goes Utah, because Utah voted mostly with the nation. Utah was a normal state. In 1976, it changes. Utah gives up its tradition of voting mostly for winners, and votes most strongly for the loser, President Gerald Ford, Republican, of any state. Next four elections, including that Ford, Reagan, Reagan, first Bush, Utah votes, the most strongly republican of any state. Utah’s had never voted most strongly for a candidate of either party before. It becomes enduringly and strongly Republican. It has only voted Republican since then, and it has been the most Republican state in seven of 11 presidential elections since then. Okay, we were normal, normal, normal, normal, normal, whoops, we’re Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican. It spreads throughout the state government.

Rod also said if only non-LDS voted, it would be the most Democratic state in the Union!

Rod:  If only non-Mormon votes had counted, no Mormon votes get to count, Utah is the most democratic state for Al Gore. Utah is the second most democratic state for Barack Obama both times, even against Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney just gets wiped out in Utah. Utah is the fifth most democratic state for Hillary Clinton. Utah would have gone for Reagan the first time, other than that Utah been would have been democrat.

GT:  So you’re saying that if we only counted non-Mormon votes.

Rod:  Only non-Mormon votes, Utah is the most religiously polarized electorate of any state. We have Latter-day Saints. We have non-Mormons, we call them Democrats and Republicans, but pretty much it’s a religious divide. Okay, so what happened? Well, first Latter-day Saints changed. Latter-day Saints changed in 1976. That was the election after Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that overturned abortion laws, including Utah’s abortion laws.

Check out our conversation….

Rod Decker has covered Utah politics for almost four decades as reporter for KUTV Channel 2 News.


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