In this post, we’ll look at four of 2015’s top ten research findings identified by the Utah Foundation Board of Trustees.
Quality of Life
Two items from the biennial Utah Foundation Quality of Life Index made the list:
7. The Utah Foundation Quality of Life index decreased primarily due to quality decreases in traffic conditions, safety and security from crime and having family nearby.
9. Non-Wasatch Front respondents and respondents with higher education reported higher quality of life ratings than peers.
Based on a statewide survey of about 600 Utahns, the overall Quality of Life Index declined somewhat from the two previous surveys in 2011 and 2013, standing at 76.9 on a scale of 100. Respondents were asked to rank a number of factors impacting their quality of life, and the results were plotted on a matrix based on the perception of their importance and their quality. Items that showed significant change from previous surveys are marked in red. Those that scored below average in quality but above average in importance become “action items” that need our attention.
Those action items include:
- Availability of good jobs
- Air and water quality
- Quality public schools
- Affordable, good housing
- Acceptance and respectfulness of individual and group differences
- Cost of living and affordability
Traffic congestion had the lowest quality of the 20 factors while safety and security from crime had the highest importance.
We also noticed a significant difference in the way respondents from more rural areas of Utah answered the survey questions compared to residents of the Wasatch Front. Traffic was not a big issue for them, but the availability of good jobs was very important. They generally reported a higher quality of life than did residents of Utah’s more urban communities.
The education levels of the respondents also correlated with their answers. Those with higher levels of education, no matter where they lived, reported a generally higher quality of life than did those with less educational attainment.
Voting & Elections
The Utah Foundation research report Voting in Utah: Analyzing Current Practices and Future Options for Utah Voters included two key findings that were highlighted by our Board of Trustees in their annual review.
4. Vote-by-Mail Works! Vote-by-mail cities saw an increase in turnout from 21% in 2011 to 38% in 2015.
6. Non-competitive Elections – Over 90% of Utah election races in 2014 were uncontested or considered uncompetitive.
The vote-by-mail process adopted by many Utah municipalities for their elections in 2015 seemed boosted voter participation. As did a ballot proposal for transportation funding. In Salt Lake City turnout reached 55%, helped by a hotly contested mayor’s race. But many other communities also showed significant increases in turnout. Orem almost doubled its participation at 30%, up from 18% in 2013. In Cottonwood Heights, it was more than doubled – 34% compared to 15% in the last city election. In rural Morgan County, where a ballot issue for transportation funding was defeated, turnout went from 6% to 45%.
Going back to early elections, Utah Foundation’s report also looked at a lack of competitive races as a possible explanation for why voter participation had been dwindling over the past two decades. Lopsided and uncontested races often see lower voter participation.
Two legislative races from 2014 are also illustrative of this point. In Orem’s House District 48, Republican Keven Stratton was unopposed. Stratton received 6,343 votes, many from straight-ticket voters. But in District 49 in Sandy and Cottonwood Heights, a contested race between Republican Robert Spendlove and Democrat Zach Robinson garnered almost twice as many – 11,560 for both candidates.
Mark Thomas, the Director of Elections in Utah’s Lieutenant Governor’s Office, says about 33% of Utah voters chose a “scratch,” or straight-party ticket ballot in the 2014 general election. That’s a much more popular option among Republicans. Among voters who chose a straight-party vote, 63% were Republicans compared to 33% of Democrats. While exceptions to the straight-party ticket are allowed in individual races, there will be an effort to eliminate that choice altogether in the coming legislative session. Democratic State Representative Patrice Arent has introduced House Bill 119, which would repeal the provision in state law for straight-ticket voting. Utah’s Republican Party chair, James Evans, told Fox 13 news in a recent interview that it supports straight-ticket voting and would work to keep it.
Utah faces an as-yet-unresolved controversy over allowing candidates the option of gathering signatures to get on a primary election ballot and bypass the caucus-convention system for party nominations. Court decisions and the experience of candidates in their districts could change the process with unexpected consequences. The impact of these changes on voter participation have yet to be determined.