Utah’s premier pollster, Dan Jones (who is a proud Democrat), gives a laundry list of reasons (here) that Utah leans so heavily Republican. He says that the Democrat desire to set some arbitrary date for leaving Iraq without a serious exit strategy “doesn’t work.” Jones suggests that Utahns in general are very solid supporters of a strong national defense policy.
Jones says that most Utahns haven’t been able to identify with a national level Democrat for a long time. He says that Utah Mormons “feel that Democrat policies are counter to church positions.” He suggests that Ronald Reagan’s immense popularity with Utahns still carries clout to this day. He also thinks President Bush’s two new Supreme Court justices are very popular with Utahns.
But it seems to me that Jones is merely whacking at the leaves of the matter rather going to the root. There is something that underlies everything that Jones discusses. I think that much of it is exposed in Michael Barone’s analysis of Senator Joe Lieberman’s (D-CT) primary election defeat. Barone essentially says that the vast majority Republicans believe in American exceptionalism—“the idea that this is a special and specially good country”—while Democrats increasingly do not.
Barone cites a 2004 poll that concluded that two-thirds of all voters believed strongly in American exceptionalism. But, when you look at how they voted, 80% of Bush voters were strong on this point, while only slightly over 50% of Kerry voters supported it. Joe Lieberman is an unabashed believer in American exceptionalism, while many of his party’s voters believe in transnaitonalism—the concept that “our country is no better than any other, and in many ways it's a whole lot worse.” Barone suggests that this sentiment goes far deeper than the war in Iraq.
One of Barone’s greatest strengths is his ability to connect the dots and understand the importance of demographic data. He says that the data show a marked shift in the Democratic Party over the past four decades, “from the lunch-bucket working class” to the “professional class … living a life in which they are insulated from adversity, [and so] feel free to imagine that America cannot be threatened by implacable enemies.” Barone shows how Lieberman was supported by the same kind of people that supported John F. Kennedy, while his opponent was supported by the same kind of people that supported Richard Nixon.
While Utah has lots of Mormons, state demography is shifting so that a steadily decreasing percentage of the populace is Mormon. Still, Mormons make up the largest single voting bloc in the state. While there is diversity in Mormon voting patterns, it is important to note that Mormon theology (even scripture and statements by leaders) is supportive of American exceptionalism.
However, Mormons weren’t always supportive of the United States. When they first came to the Salt Lake Valley, they thought they were leaving behind the U.S. and the persecutions they had endured under democratic governments. Then Mormons had a six-decade-long dispute with the rest of the U.S. over the practice of polygamy and religious control of public life. Once again, they felt oppressed by a democratic government.
Over the last century, through two world wars and a Cold War, Mormons in the U.S. became generally very patriotic and supportive of the American experiment. It would appear that this sentiment runs very strong among Utah Mormons, and it would be interesting to see the results for Utah of the 2004 poll cited by Barone to see if my supposition is valid.
Jones notes that Utahns were not always strongly Republican. The pendulum has swung back and forth. At times the parties have been somewhat evenly split. In the 1930s Utah became solidly Democratic. But, as Barone notes, back in those days, both parties were very strong supporters of American exceptionalism. Barone clearly believes that the two parties are increasingly being defined by their stance on this one issue.
While Barone notes a shift away from American exceptionalism among Democrats, what he fails to make clear is how the general populace is moving on this issue. For my part, I would be interested to know how the general Utah populace is moving on it. This dynamic will apparently have a lot to say about who wins and loses elections and which stances the Republican Party takes in the years to come.