SALT LAKE CITY — Even though Utah is one of the most Republican states in the country, voters are split over which political party they trust more to handle gun policy in Congress, according to poll results released Wednesday.
More than a third of voters surveyed for UtahPolicy.com — 36% — said their trust is with congressional Democrats when it comes to dealing with the politically volatile issue, while just 42% put their faith in Republican members of Congress.
“That’s such a low number for Utah,” Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said. “Anytime you see Utahns have low levels of trust in Republicans, you know it’s an issue people are frustrated about.”
Telling, too, she said, is that nearly a quarter of poll respondents, 22%, said they either didn’t know which party to trust or had no opinion.
“The high number of ‘Don’t knows’ to me indicates what a complicated issue this is. People are upset. They want change,” Lyon Cotti said. “But it’s hard to know what policies would truly be effective.”
The same poll also found that Utahns overwhelmingly believe gun violence is a serious problem in the United States, with 58% calling the problem very serious, and 24%, somewhat serious. Only 18% didn’t consider the situation serious.
LaVarr Webb, UtahPolicy.com publisher, said Democrats have been better at promoting increasingly popular proposals, such as enhanced background checks to cover sales at gun shows and other private transactions, and red flag laws that allow courts to take away weapons from owners judged a danger to themselves or others.
Anytime you see Utahns have low levels of trust in Republicans, you know it’s an issue people are frustrated about.
–Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics
“I think Utahns and people across the country want something done on this issue, including a lot of Republicans,” Webb said. “They want action on this issue and Democrats have been more vocal about it and have made more suggestions and proposals than Republicans.”
Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, called the poll results encouraging. He is set to try again to pass legislation requiring universal background checks on gun sales in Utah after seeing the issue fail to advance in the 2019 Legislature.
“It’s surprising in a state as conservative as Utah, you don’t have great support for Republican policies on gun violence prevention,” King said, suggesting to him a lack of alignment between the National Rifle Association positions often adopted by the GOP “and what regular Utahns feel.”
Still, he wasn’t ready to predict success for his bill in 2020.
“It’s too early to say,” King said, although he is already trying to build support across the aisle with members of the Legislature’s Republican supermajority. “It’s a long, tough slog and this is a tough issue that triggers a lot of emotions. ...It’s going to take some work. But it’s worthy, it’s something we need to have happen in Utah.”
Utah’s only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, already a supporter of universal background checks for gun buyers, told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards during a discussion on gun violence that he was willing “to consider any option that will save the lives of our kids.”
And Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has suggested he’s open to supporting a bipartisan background check bill. Romney told the editorial boards he has spoken with the Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., about concerns over the impact of background checks on rural Utahns.
Webb, a Republican, said as long as Democrats stick to “moderate gun control positions” and stay away from proposals such as confiscating assault rifles and limiting he size of ammunition magazines, the issue can help them at the polls.
Republicans, he said, “will want to emphasize that they support private ownership of guns and the Second Amendment. But if they do that, within the context of that, they can still support some of the more moderate positions on gun control.”
Broken down by gender, the results show Utah women trust Democrats in Congress more, with 40% looking to Democratic members of Congress and 36% to Republicans. Among men, trust in the GOP grows to 47% and trust in Democrats declines, to 33%.
Webb said women may be reacting more strongly to the string of mass casualty shootings around the country.
“When people go into crowded locations or schools and start killing as many people as possible, that’s different,” he said, raising questions about how safe families are in public places. “I think that has just rattled a lot of mothers and women.”
Lyon Cotti said the numbers may be a result of women in Utah more likely being Democrats, as well as seeing many women nationwide associated with the issue.
“There are a lot of women who have been fighting for change,” she said. “Women can see other women leading and they can gravitate toward that.”
The poll was conducted July 31 to Aug. 6 by Y2 Analytics among 1,017 registered Utah voters participating in the Utah Political Trends Panel. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the overall results, and between plus or minus 4.1 to 5 percentage points for the results by gender.