Utah is a caucus state and I have to admit that I both like and dislike it.
Pros: It’s local. I enjoy going to my caucus and seeing people from my neighborhood. We get to sit down and talk about the issues that matter to our neighborhood. It truly is the most grassroots that you can get in the American political system. It’s exclusive, meaning that you have to be affiliated with the party to attend its caucus meetings and be involved in the primary process.
Cons: It’s exclusive, meaning that you have to be affiliated with the party to attend its caucus meetings and be involved in the primary process.
In Utah, something like 12.5% of voters are registered Democrats, while 34% of voters are registered Republicans. That leaves 53.5% of voters unaffiliated/independent. As caucus attendance numbers dwindle, elected candidates come more from the fringe of each party, alienating a large portion of general election voters. How do you think Utah elected Mike Lee?! Mike Lee won the Republican nomination in a hotly contested Republican Primary 51%-49% (the final count was around 2,000 votes). He was carried by one ULTRA conservative county. When it came to the general election, Lee (R) defeated Granato (D) by almost a 2-1 margin. Many of Utah’s independents are Republican-leaning, and 7 times out of 10 candidate (R) is going to win in a national election.
In my discussions with many former-Republican-now-unaffiliated Utahn’s, they say that they left the party because of the caucus system. They feel that only “extreme” voices were “allowed” or “heard” and that anybody who questioned the “official party position” was ostracized. Because of the neighborhood affiliation of the caucus system, this created strain between neighbors and rather than potentially lose close friendships or create negative feelings within the neighborhood, they simply left the party (or no longer attend caucus meetings if they’re still affiliated).
So what’s the answer? Part of the answer is for more people to get involved in their caucus to make it truly more “representative” than it currently is. Of course, this means that people will have to care enough to get involved and to take the risk of arguing with neighbors. Until then, the more “extreme” elements of each party will continue to dominate Utah politics and we’ll continue electing jackasses like Mike Lee.
So please, if you live in Utah and you’re not affiliated with a party, get affiliated. If you are affiliated, attend your local caucus meetings.