Utah conservatives put U.S. peers to shame

Republicans in other states seem almost liberal

Published: Monday, May 21 2001 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah turned Bill Haddock into a Democrat.

He didn't want that. Born and bred in the Republican heartland of Sen. Robert Taft's Ohio, Haddock had voted "straight Republican" all his life. Proud of it.

But when American Stores transferred him to Utah in 1981, Haddock says he struck "this conservative political wall."

The stark political atmosphere hit home after he'd been in town a month. Haddock answered his door one weekend to find a woman holding a clipboard.

"She asked me to sign a petition to renew the effort on the Equal Rights Amendment. Back in Ohio, even in California where I'd just been transferred from, all the Republicans I knew supported the ERA. Just about everyone did. So I said sure, I'd sign. She was so happy. I looked down on the sheet and there were no names. She said she'd been knocking on doors all over my (West Valley) neighborhood that morning, and I was the first guy who would sign."

Haddock soon decided he had to vote Democratic while in Utah. "The Democrats were like Republicans" he'd known elsewhere. "The (Utah) Republicans were, well, something else."

Haddock's real-life experience was teaching him what political experts — and now two extensive Deseret News polls — show: Utahns are more conservative than other Americans.

It's part of who we are. And for outsiders and state citizens alike, it's a political and moral climate some advocate and relish, others bemoan and criticize.

Measuring perceptions

In an effort to quantify where Utahns stand in relation to other Americans on the liberal /conservative scale, the newspaper asked pollster Dan Jones & Associates to ask nine bellwether questions of people across the country — then ask Utahns the same questions.

The newspaper actually asked the nationwide and statewide survey questions twice — in 1999, to get what's called a baseline measurement of attitudes, and again in December 2000 to reaffirm the earlier data.

The results show Utahns to be more conservative on every issue asked but one.

In the most recent national and Utah surveys, Utahns were actually a bit more liberal than Americans as a whole on only one question: Prayer in public schools. However, in the 1999 baseline national and Utah polls, Utahns were more conservative on that issue as well. The small changes in attitudes between the two surveys are within the margin of error, however, Jones noted.

Jones found in all his polling that on some issues, like abortion and civil rights for gays and lesbians, Utahns are much more conservative than other Americans. On other issues, like prayer in public schools, they are closer to feelings nationally.

Jones, who has polled in Utah and across the country for 25 years, explains that when measuring people's attitudes in different general areas, it is best to consider the mean score of the respondents' answers. On the abortion question, for example, Utahns' mean score (on a scale of 1 to 10) is 1.45 points higher on the conservative scale than Americans in general.

"That is a major difference; Utahns are much more conservative" on that issue than the rest of the country, Jones said.

In years of polling, Jones said, he's rarely found Utahns' thinking so far out of tune with the rest of the nation. Another example of such divergence was Utahns' attitude toward the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Utahns were still much in favor of America being in the war while the rest of the nation was quickly tiring of the conflict, Jones said.

In viewing the newspaper's national conservative poll numbers against Utah's, Jones says any mean score difference greater than 0.50 "should be considered significant."

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