Republicans voted for Democrats on Tuesday in astounding numbers, says Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones, who many recognize as the premiere pollster in the state.
"My exit polling shows that 40 percent of the Republicans voted for Bill Orton in the 3rd District - that'scause for a full-scale investigation, a purge," Jones jokingly told an audience at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics Wednesday.
Throwing out statistic after statistic, Jones gave numerous examples of Republicans stepping over their party lines and voting for Democrats. Even races where Republicans won, they won by margins much smaller than anticipated. "Twenty-seven percent of those who said they're strong Republicans voted for Wayne Owens. You saw that kind of voting all over," Jones said.
The Democratic Owens beat his GOP challenger, Genevieve Atwood, 58 percent to 40 percent.
Polling for the newspaper and TV station Monday through Thursday of last week, Jones failed to detect "a groundswell of Democratic support." He says his numbers were good at the time, but the swell rose late and swept over much of the state - especially the 3rd Congressional District where the Democrat Orton - trailing by 10 percentage points a week ago - rallied to crush Republican Karl Snow by 21 percentage points - 58 percent to 37 percent - in Tuesday's election.
Jones gives three reasons for Snow's unexpected defeat. "One was that ad, devastating. Second, John Harmer's people (Harmer, an arch-conservative, was defeated by Snow in the GOP primary) worked and voted against Snow. Three, there was a major protest vote down there."
Jones refers to a full-page advertisement that ran in the Utah County Journal - a free tabloid newspaper - delivered to 68,000 Utah County homes on Sunday. The ad showed Snow with his wife and six children. It also showed Orton, who is not married, by himself.
The ad, paid for by the State Republican Party (whose leaders said they didn't know the content before and found it offensive) compared Snow's family values with Orton's, insinuating that because Orton isn't married he doesn't share 3rd District family values. A huge outcry ensued, and Snow - who says he wasn't responsible for the ad - apologized. But the ad apparently was the straw that broke the voters' backs - tired of the negative tone of the campaign, many Republicans voted against their own party's candidate, Jones said.
"Fifty-eight percent of the LDS women voted for Orton. Half of all those who consider themselves very conservative voted for him. It was something."
About 55 percent of registered voters turned out statewide, a pretty good showing, Jones said.
The Democratic surge was seen throughout the state, he added. "Thirteen percent of the people voted straight Democratic Party line. But only 11 percent voted straight Republican, and usually the straight party Republican vote runs 18 to 20 percent. There was a huge crossover from Republicans to Democrats."
Even though the Democrats fared well - gaining control of the Salt Lake County Commission, re-electing Owens in the 2nd Congressional seat and putting a brief scare into Republican Jim Hansen before re-electing him to his 1st District seat - the 1990 election wasn't a rejection of Republicanism.
"This is still a Republican state," said Jones. Democrats gained only four seats in the Utah House, and Repubicans are still in the majority, as they are in the state Senate, where Democrats gained three seats.
"I see the Republicans regrouping for 1992. You'll see a number of new Republican faces then," Jones predicted. Even though they haven't personally told him this, Jones guesses that GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter and Republican Sen. Jake Garn won't seek re-election to their offices. That will open up the party to a new generation of leaders.
"My advice to the Republicans: Don't go through another primary in the 3rd District. It really hurt them this year," said Jones.