Republican leaders are worried about split-ticket voting this year, and they should be.
Presidential election years have, in the past, been good for the majority party in Utah. And you can't get much more majority than the Republicans have had the past decade.Polls by Dan Jones & Associates taken for the Deseret News and KSL-TV over the years show that between 40-45 percent of Utahns consider themselves Republicans. Between 20-25 percent say they're Democrats, and most of the rest are independents.
The best GOP years in recent times were 1980 and 1984, when the tremendously popular Ronald Reagan carried Utah with more than 70 percent of the presidential vote, pulling local Republican candidates along with him.
Republican leaders are saying that 1988 will be another good year in Utah because it is once again a presidential year.
But it may not turn out that way.
First, Vice President George Bush likely won't run as strong in Utah as Reagan has. That's really no complaint against Bush. Nobody could run as strong as Reagan. The president took 75 percent of the vote in Utah in 1984, 72 percent in 1980.
But Bush's strength relative to Reagan isn't the Utah GOP's concern. How strong Gov. Norm Bangerter will run is.
The thinking goes like this:
At the top of the ticket are the national races. First is president, and Bush will do all right there. Next comes Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He'll do all right as well, the Republicans figure.
The U.S. House come next and they are a mixed bag. It's a tossup in the 1st District between Republican Jim Hansen and Democrat Gunn McKay, while Democrat Wayne Owens will do all right in the 2nd District and Republican Howard Nielson fine in the 3rd District.
But then comes the state races, and that is where the split-ticket balloting may come into play in earnest.
Jones found in his latest poll that a number of people who say they're going to vote for Bush and Hatch aren't going to vote for Bangerter. Instead, they're going to switch parties and vote for Democrat Ted Wilson for governor.
Now, Jones' findings aren't a prediction of what will happen. As with all polls, the results are only a snapshot of public opinion at the time of the poll. Things may change dramatically by the Nov. 8 election.
Still, Jones found in an April 22 poll that 41 percent of those who said they're going to vote for Bush said they are also going to vote for Wilson. And 48 percent of those who said they're going to vote for Hatch said they're going to vote for Wilson.
That is very big split-ticket voting.
Jones also found that 8 percent of those who said they're voting for Bush will vote for independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, and 9 percent who are voting for Hatch said they'll vote for Cook.
Wilson realizes what is happening and is taking a smart campaign tactic. He is actively courting the dissatisfied Republican vote. "I can't win without you Republicans," Wilson recently told a Salt Lake business group's meeting. In Spanish Fork this week, Wilson was pleased to hear one man ask: "I'm a Republican who is probably going to vote for you. How do I explain that to my Republican friends?"
Of course such talk concerns Bangerter's campaign officials. They're working hard to identify those split-ticket voters and go after them with specific themes.
And no doubt you'll see Hatch, Bush, and other leading Republicans pleading with Utah voters not to vote for two or three Republicans at the top of the ticket and then cross over and vote for Democrats.
The real worry among GOP loyalists is that after voting for those top Republican ticketers, and then voting for Wilson, the Democratic trend will continue through the bottom of the ballot - thus harming other state GOP officeholders like Attorney General David Wilkinson, Treasurer Ed Alter, Auditor Tom Allen, and a host of GOP House and Senate members.
Time will tell if that will happen. But these early polls show it is a possibility Republicans should worry about and address in their campaign advertising.