While Utah Foundation’s Utah Priorities Project highlights the top ten most important issues to Utahns, there are just as many priorities that did not make the list. These lesser priorities, while not highlighted through most of our reporting process, are still important to many Utahns. These other concerns and associated survey data will be briefly covered in a series of blog posts and will be released roughly once every other week leading up to the election.
Liquor Laws first appeared as a priority in the 2012 election. Unfortunately for those who often call for reforms among Utah’s liquor laws, this item has taken the bottom spot for both the 2012 and 2016 election cycles. In Utah Foundation’s preliminary survey used to generate priorities which are later rated, only one of 507 respondents listed it as the greatest issue facing Utah, with an additional four respondents listing it as the second greatest issue. That’s less than 1% of Utahns. Although there are some groups that advocate changes, it makes sense that when sorting through such pressing priorities as healthcare, water supply and quality, and jobs and the economy, the ease in which one acquires their alcohol can take the back seat. Moreover, more than half the population of Utah belongs to a religion that requires abstinence from alcohol. Subsequently, it is no surprise that the factor most tightly linked to Utahn’s level of concern is religion, with individuals who identify as LDS expressing a much lower level of concern.
It should be noted, that because of the way our question was asked, Utah Foundation is not sure which side of the issue Utah voters come down on. These voters could be concerned about liquor laws being too relaxed and alcohol too available, or frustrated that there is no wine aisle in Utah supermarkets.
Utah’s liquor laws are more complex than many other states and websites often cite Utah as one of the states with the weirdest liquor laws. In fact, some tourism/hospitality websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and even the Guardian’s travel section have guides on how to get a drink in Utah. On the other side of the debate, defenders of Utah’s liquor laws argue that they help prevent alcohol abuse, lowers mortality rates from cirrhosis (a disease related to alcohol abuse), and dampens DUI offenses in Utah.
Another interesting finding from the survey is that respondents’ concern for liquor laws and respondents’ education is linked, even when accounting for other demographic factors. It is somewhat puzzling that Utahns with lower levels of education are more likely to have higher levels of concern about Utah’s liquor laws, especially in light of the fact that generally, individuals with higher levels of education usually drink more often, and at higher levels. One possible explanation for this discrepancy could be that liquor laws restrict alcohol access more for Utahns with less education.
Whether Utahn’s feel the state’s liquor laws are too restrictive or not restrictive enough, the population collectively has many other priorities that are judged to be more important than liquor laws. Nonetheless, the issue of Utah’s liquor laws perennially arises during Utah’s legislative sessions. We’ll see it again in 2017.