GovernorGary Herbert (R)
SenatorsOrrin Hatch (R)
Robert Bennett (R)
Utah is a triumph of man over nature, the creation of a productive and orderly civilization in a remote expanse of desert and mountain, arrayed around a desolate salt sea. Today’s Utah and its ubiquitous Mormon Church have their roots in events that unfolded in upstate New York more than 170 years ago. There, Joseph Smith, a 14-year-old farmer, experienced a vision in which the angel Moroni appeared to him and told him where to unearth several golden tablets inscribed with hieroglyphic writings. With the aid of special spectacles, Smith translated the tablets and published them as the Book of Mormon in 1831. He later declared himself to be a prophet and founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons, as they were called, attracted thousands of converts and created their own communities. Persecuted for their beliefs, they moved west to Ohio, Missouri and then Illinois. In 1844, the Mormon colony at Nauvoo, Ill., had some 15,000 members living under Smith’s theocratic rule. It was there that Smith received a revelation sanctioning the practice of polygamy, which led to his death at the hands of a mob. After the murder, the new church president, Brigham Young, decided to move the faithful, ‘‘the saints,’’ farther west into territory that was still part of Mexico and far beyond white settlement. Young led a well-organized march across the Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains. In 1847, they stopped on the western slope of the Wasatch Range and, as Young gazed over the valley of the Great Salt Lake spread out below, he said, ‘‘This is the place.’’
The place was Utah. Young was governor of the territory for many years. It is the only state that has continued, to varying degrees, to live by the teachings of a church. The early pioneers laid out towns foursquare to the points of the compass with huge city blocks. They built sturdy houses and planted dozens of trees. Young’s home still stands a block away from Temple Square, where the Salt Lake LDS Temple, closed to non-Mormons, stands in gleaming marble, topped by the golden angel Moroni and situated across from the oval Mormon Tabernacle, where its great choir sings. For 160 years, this ‘‘Zion’’ has attracted thousands of converts from the Midwest, the north of England and Scandinavia. The object of religious fear and prejudice, Utah was not granted statehood until 1896, after the church renounced polygamy. Utah has grown steadily since then, and remains heavily Mormon. Without the Mormons, Utah’s inhospitable landscape would probably have remained as unpopulated as Nevada would have been without gambling.
The LDS Church remains distinctive in many ways. It cares deeply about its past. In caves in the mountains of Utah, the church preserves America’s most complete genealogical records in its Family History Library and has made them available on the Internet. It tries to spread the faith: Young Mormons, 65,000 every year, spend missionary years in the United States and abroad. (An ancillary result is that Utah has one of the lowest rates of Army enlistment in the country.) The missionaries’ experiences give Utah the biggest inventory of people with knowledge of obscure foreign languages of any state in the union, a nice commercial advantage, and one that prompted the National Security Agency to set up language analyst offices in Utah in 2006. The church prohibits the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. It encourages hard work and large families. Mormons are healthier than the average American. They are also better educated, work longer hours and earn more money. In an individualist country, the church fosters communitarian attitudes. The LDS Church has no clergy, but members serve in positions for which they are chosen, conducting religious services but also keeping in touch with members and counseling them when they need help. The church also maintains its own social service organizations. While American mainline denominations have been losing members, the Mormon Church is growing. There were 2.9 million Mormons in 1970 and nearly 11 million in 2000, with more than half outside the United States and just 15% in Utah. This has been the fastest-growing church in the United States in recent decades and was the nation’s fifth largest denomination in 2003.
Mormons and Utahns are heavily Republican today, but this was not always so. In the 19th century, Republicans led the fight to keep Utah out of the union and a Democrat, President Grover Cleveland, signed the statehood act. Before World War II, Utah saw itself as a colonial victim of East Coast bankers and financiers, and Mormons saw themselves as suffering religious discrimination and bigotry—all with some cause. Utah’s income levels were well below the national average, its cost of living higher, and the prices paid for the things it produced seemed to be controlled elsewhere. In political terms, this perspective translated into a Democratic allegiance. In 1940, Utah was represented by staunch New Dealers in Congress and cast 62% of its votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, Utah sees itself as a busy generator of wealth, with a raft of successful businesses, a knack for high-tech innovation, and longer work weeks than the rest of the nation.
Utah achieves all this with cultural attitudes and demographic patterns that resemble the America of the 1950s. The state has the highest percentage of households headed by married couples, the highest fertility rate for non-Hispanic whites, the youngest median age of first marriage, and the lowest rate of birth to unmarried mothers. It has many more children per capita than any other state, and this can make its economic statistics misleading: Utah has a per capita income 17% below the national average (because all those kids aren’t earning salaries), but a median household income 7% above the national average. It has the youngest population of any state, with the largest families and one of the longest life expectancies. It also has the highest rate of volunteerism. Some 62% of Utahns are Mormons, a percentage that has been declining but is still a solid majority. And pervading the cultural atmosphere of the state is the LDS Church. Its opposition to abortion is widely shared and it has always discouraged gambling. It is one of only two states (Hawaii is the other) with no form of gambling, although many Mormons are employed in the gaming industry across the state line in Las Vegas. Utah has been way ahead of the rest of the nation in discouraging the use of tobacco and has had restrictive liquor laws. Only in 2009 could you get a drink served at a bar without joining a private club, and then if beer is your preference, it will have a mere 3.2% alcohol by volume. Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. got the Legislature to make that change by arguing that the old restrictions hurt tourism. Polls show that nearly 80% of Mormons vote Republican, but church leaders make a point of stating that “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of all political parties.”
Between 2007 and 2008, Utah had the highest rate of population growth in the nation, in large part because migration into previously faster-growing Nevada and Arizona fell as the real estate market crashed, while most of Utah’s population growth happens internally—all those kids. Utah, with a much smaller housing bubble, fell into recession later and less painfully, although state revenues tumbled sharply. Utah has also had substantial domestic inflow, especially from California, including Hispanics. The state population is now 11% Hispanic but just 1% African-American. This has helped to reduce the Mormon percentage in Utah, even as the church continues making new converts in other states and around the world. Interestingly, the Salt Lake City neighborhoods close to the church headquarters, with gracious old houses and a smaller street grid that attract academic and professional newcomers, have become the most heavily ‘‘gentile’’ (the Mormon term for non-Mormons) and politically liberal part of the state. Just as the Yankee hub of Boston filled up with Irish Catholic Democrats in the 1890s, so Salt Lake City has been getting secular liberal Democrats. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson called President George W. Bush a “war criminal” and in 2004 the city voted 58% for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. In 2008, all of Salt Lake County went for Democrat Barack Obama, albeit by only 296 votes out of 367,000 cast, and Democrats won control of the county government and elected most of its state legislators. But Democrats won almost no legislative seats in the rest of the state and in Utah County, centered on Provo and Brigham Young University, which voted 78%-19% for Republican nominee John McCain. And while Salt Lake County grew by 14% from 2000 to 2008, Utah County grew by 44%. There has been even faster growth in Washington County, in the far southwest corner of the state just northeast of Las Vegas, where local Mormons have been highly critical of polygamists, like the prosecuted Warren Jeffs, living in communities on the Utah-Arizona line.
Politically, Utah has been generally the most Republican state since the 1980s. It does elect one Democratic congressman these days, Jim Matheson, who started off with the advantage of having a father who was a well-remembered Democratic governor. But it has not elected a Democratic governor since Matheson’s father, Scott, in 1980, or a Democratic senator since 1970. And it has not voted Democratic for president since 1964.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
Utah has been the most Republican state in six of the last nine presidential elections. As recently as 1960, Richard Nixon carried Utah with just 55% of the vote, but by 1972, he won re-election with 68%. Ronald Reagan won 73% here in 1980 and 75% in 1984. George H.W. Bush won 66% here in 1988 and son George W. Bush 67% in 2000 and 72% in 2004. In 1992, this was also the least Democratic state: third-party candidate Ross Perot finished ahead of Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, 27% to 25%. But in 2008, the movement toward Democrats in Salt Lake County and widespread enthusiasm for Democratic candidate Barack Obama—some 600 Young Democrats campaigned for him at Brigham Young, and the campaign opened an office in Washington County during the primary—left Republican John McCain carrying the state by just 63%-34%, behind his showings in Oklahoma and Wyoming. This was the best Democratic showing since Hubert Humphrey won 37% of the vote in 1968. Obama carried Salt Lake County, if only by 296 votes. In matrimony-minded Utah, there was no gender gap at all, and young voters went 62% for McCain. The best Obama age group was the 30- to 44-year-olds, Generation X, which gave McCain only a 52%-44% advantage. The exit poll showed Mormons voting 78%-19% for McCain, which suggests that “gentiles” actually voted for Obama.
Utah’s attempts to become a force in presidential primaries have not been successful. Former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt spent much time and effort promoting a Western regional primary for the Friday following the South-dominated Super Tuesday, March 10, 2000. But only Colorado and Wyoming (with a caucus, not a primary) adopted the date, and candidates paid less attention to Western issues than Leavitt had hoped. In 2004, Utah held a Democratic primary on February 24, but the Legislature would not pay for it, so the state Democratic Party footed the bill of $50,000; 35,000 people voted in a state of 2.3 million, and John Kerry beat John Edwards 55%-30%.
For the 2008 presidential contest, the Legislature decided to hold state-financed primaries on February 5, which turned out to be Super Tuesday, when many larger states voted. Nonetheless, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama ran television spots, perhaps the first Democratic presidential ads many native Utahns had ever seen. Chelsea Clinton and Michelle Obama came in to campaign. Some 131,000 Utahns voted in the Democratic primary, 57% for Obama and 39% for Clinton. There was little suspense on the Republican side. Mitt Romney, as a Mormon and as the savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics, won 89% of the vote, with a robust turnout of 296,000, far higher than the 91,000 in 2000. But it was not enough to salvage his candidacy.
|111th Congress: 1 D, 2 R|
Utahns expected that the 2000 census would give Utah a fourth seat in the House of Representatives. But, under the formula used for reapportionment, Utah fell 857 residents short of getting a new district. Instead, North Carolina got an unexpected 13th seat. Utah sued, twice. The first lawsuit contended that if military personnel stationed abroad should be counted in their states of residence, so should Mormon missionaries, who also can be accurately tracked and matched with their home states. North Carolina had thousands of military personnel stationed abroad and only 107 attributable Mormon missionaries. Utah had fewer military personnel stationed abroad but 11,176 Mormon missionaries. In April 2001, a three-judge federal court threw out Utah’s case and the U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed the ruling.
Utah’s other lawsuit charged that the Census Bureau violated the Constitution’s injunction that it conduct an “actual enumeration” of the population when it employed what statisticians call “hot-deck imputation,” when census takers, after repeated failed efforts to contact residents of one housing unit, assume that it contains the same number of people in similar housing units nearby. Utah argued that this is “sampling,” which, the Supreme Court ruled in another case, was prohibited for use in reapportionment. This argument did better in court. Utah lost by a 2-to-1 in a three-judge district court in 2001 and by 5-4 on the Supreme Court in June 2002. But the upshot was that North Carolina, not Utah, got the 435th House district in the 2000 reapportionment. Utah’s Legislature drew new congressional district lines in September 2001. Aware that the state was suing for another district, it adopted both three- and four-district plans. Utah conducted its 2002 election with the three-district plan in place.
In 2006, Utah’s quest for a fourth House seat got a boost with a bill by U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., to award the District of Columbia a full voting member of the House. It balanced that obvious gain for the Democrats by awarding another seat, until the next reapportionment after the 2010 census, to the state entitled to the 436th district under the statutory formula, which is Utah. But how would the new member from Utah be elected? House Republicans insisted that the Utah Legislature draw up a plan with four congressional districts before the bill would be considered. The Utah legislature did so in December 2006, with a plan that allayed Democrats’ fears and gave Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, a much more Democratic district. But time was running out on the Republican Congress, and the D.C. bill never reached the floor.
With Democrats gaining solid majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008, it was widely expected that the D.C.-Utah bill would pass and be signed by President Obama. The Senate did pass it 61-37 in February 2009, but in March, House Republicans managed to attach to the bill an amendment repealing D.C.’s strict gun-control laws. Many Democrats from rural, pro-gun districts supported the move, but a large faction of Democrats who favor gun control opposed it, and House leaders shelved the bill.
Utah will likely gain a fourth district in the 2010 census, and it seems likely that the Republican Legislature—given Matheson’s success in winning re-election in 2008 by nearly 2-to-1 in a district that voted 58% for McCain—will produce a redistricting plan with a solidly Democratic district for Matheson in 2012, plus three safely Republican districts. It also seems exceedingly unlikely that Utah, or any other solidly Republican state, will be in line, under the 2010 reapportionment, for the 436th House seat, in which case the Davis stratagem of balancing a new D.C. seat with one in Utah or another Republican state would not be feasible in the future.