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Utahns have the opportunity to influence national elections in the future, but low voter turnout and redistricting have negatively affected politics locally and nationally. Demographic changes will also shape the future of the state and country by changing political platforms, according to a political panel sponsored by the Durham Jones & Pinegar Women Lawyers Group.
Utah’s influence on the national election grew during the 2012 election, not because of votes, but in terms of money and volunteers, said Allyson Bell, administrative director of the office of Sen. Mike Lee.
Bell said many people in Utah were Mitt Romney supporters, and it made Utah a more relevant player in the national election than it ever has been. That influence could continue, but would require a big effort to stay involved. “We have to decide if we want to play on a different level,” she said.
Matt Lyon, Utah Democratic Party executive director, said Romney had a big impact on the state in turnout. Utah went from 48th to 39th in voter participation nationally.
However, Lyon said the increased turnout actually showed Utahns are not as politically conservative as most people assume. Despite a huge turnout voting for Romney, many of those people then also voted for Democrats Ben McAdams and Jim Matheson. Lyon said Utahns like moderate representatives and getting more voters out actually moderated political extremes last year.
The “Get Out the Vote” push from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a big impact on bringing both Utah Democrats and Republicans to the center in the caucuses simply because it wasn’t the extreme ends of either party ruling the candidate selection, said Dave Owen, GOP consultant and principal at Owen Communications.
Redistricting has also had a really negative affect on voters, said Lyon, because it is focused on protecting incumbents, not making an effective system of representation.
With enough redistricting, people begin to feel like there is no point in voting, said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist and senior advisor for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Over time, votes don’t matter anymore and participation drops.”
The system is then perpetuated, because “the guys that get elected are very unlikely to work against the system that got them elected,” Owen said.
In addition to the effect higher voter turnout had, Lyon said demographic changes had a big impact and will continue to change future elections.
“The face of Utah is changing right in front of us,” Gochnour said, pointing out that Utah had the fourth-fastest minority population growth between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Candidate platforms really matter and those platforms are responsive to demographics, she said.