If one lesson came out of the 2018 elections it is that elections have messages. Indeed, voters use elections to send messages because it is one of their few opportunities to do so. While politicians and candidates spend two or four (or occasionally six) years talking at voters, voters get one chance to talk back – at election time.
A surprisingly large number of voters in Northern Utah this year sent a strong message to politicians. That is the message that they are tired of the Republicans and Democrats taking extremist positions, bickering and failing to solve pressing problems. That can be seen in the fact that 12 percent of voters cast a ballot for Eric Eliason, the 1st Congressional District candidate for the newly formed United Utah Party. In fact, Eliason even beat the Democratic candidate in Cache County.
When he filed in March, Eliason was an unknown candidate. It is likely that, even at the end of the race, he was still unknown to many voters in his district. But Eliason was able to secure a protest vote cast by about 1 in 8 of the 1st District’s voters.
Nor was Eliason alone. Although still a minor party, the United Utah Party ran candidates in 18 races. In three of those races – Michele Weeks (HD 51), Amy Martz (HD 42), and Alex Castagno (SD 9), the United Utah Party candidate received between 33 and 39 percent of the vote. Those are not typical percentages for minor party candidates. For example, the highest any other minor party candidate received was 22 percent for a Libertarian candidate in southern Utah.
All totaled, United Utah Party candidates won just over 94,000 votes or 10 percent of the total votes cast in those 18 races. By comparison, the other minor parties’ candidates won five percent or less in the races where they ran.
How does a political party running its first full campaign get so many votes?
Part of the answer lies in the message of the UUP. The UUP is different from other political parties – either the major parties or the minor parties. It does not impose litmus tests or espouse some extremist ideology. It favors practicality over ideology.
Additionally, the UUP runs candidates who favor moderation over extremism. This year our candidates advocated clean air, more education funding, term limits, campaign finance limits, and fiscal responsibility. These issue positions do not fit the typical left-right continuum.
Yet, our newness is a distinct disadvantage because most people still do not know who we are. Our own research has found that the vast majority of Utahns are unaware of what the United Utah Party is. Not surprisingly, when they do find out, they are much more favorably disposed to vote for our candidates. We know relative anonymity is a problem because we recognize that in a low-information environment, voters tend to favor their default party. We have attempted to get our message out to voters and will continue to do so.
Nevertheless, we believe we have broken through two barriers to our success. One was the barrier of expected transience. When the party was formed last year, many people assumed it was a “flash in the pan” party that would last one election. We have proven that prediction wrong by competing again this year with 18 candidates, more than any other minor party.
The other barrier was that, even if we continued on, we would be simply another minor party like the Constitution, Libertarian, and Independent American parties. We have demonstrated that we are not the typical minor party. We are not just another party getting three or four percent of the vote.
These results indicate that the United Utah Party has a future in Utah politics and government. We will be running candidates in 2020. Those candidates will range from statewide office to the county level.
Many voters sent a message this year. It is a message that should worry the Republicans and the Democrats. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “the times they are a’changin.”