Many voters in Cache Valley had a long wait ahead when they arrived at their district’s caucus.
The Utah caucus, which was held on March 22, allowed registered voters to choose their party’s nominee for the primary election. This determines how delegates, individuals chosen during caucuses to represent their district, will vote during the National Convention.
Skye Cowdell, a Utah State University freshman in law and constitutional studies and a Republican, voted with her sisters. Cowdell had attended a caucus before, but this was the first year she was old enough to vote. She saw more fellow voters than she anticipated.
“My sisters said the year before there were only ten people there, and this year there were 110,” Cowdell said.
Even though Utah is traditionally a red state, Utah Democrats experienced a drastic increase in caucus voters. Jenna Hase, a USU junior in social work, drove for two hours — since she was registered in a different town — and waited an additional two hours to place her vote at the Democratic caucus. Hase said her wait was “actually not that long” in comparison. She heard of voters throughout the state who waited four hours in line.
Both parties were in a scramble to obtain enough ballots and registration forms for everyone, due to unprecedented voter turnout. Hase’s friend registered using a Spanish form because her district ran out of English forms.
While data for the participant’s ages was not collected, attendees observed an increase in young voters.
“Certainly at the Democratic caucus there was an extraordinarily high turnout of young people. I was there for the entire process, all three and a half hours,” said Michael Lyons, an associate professor of political science at USU. “Definitely a much larger percentage than in other years when I’ve participated. Pretty much an extraordinary percentage when you look at the political indifference of young people nationwide.”
The young voter turnout was likely not as high on the Republican side, Lyons said. Young voters tend to lean left. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders also appeals to young voters due to his stances on marijuana legalization, college tuition, gay rights and early opposition to the Iraq war.
This year, there is a candidate for everyone, said Damon Cann, associate professor of political science at USU. Voters are turning out to support a candidate who they identify with. However, there are also people on the other side of the ideological spectrum who fear those candidates.
Cann said many Utah Democrats felt in the past that they had two choices: vote for a liberal candidate who couldn’t win in Utah, or “hold their noses and vote for a moderate” who didn’t fully represent their beliefs but had better chances.
“The thing I heard over and over again from Democrats in Utah is, ‘For once, our vote finally matters,'” Cann said.
This partially explains why Sanders won 79.3 percent of Utah’s vote. Sanders is the first “aggressively liberal” candidate since Howard Dean in 2004, who didn’t last very long, Lyons said.
For Utah Republicans, the reason for turnout was less due to enthusiasm for a particular candidate, but more opposition to another, Cann said. Despite Trump currently holding the national lead, Ted Cruz walked away with all 40 of Utah’s delegates.
“Donald Trump doesn’t play well in Utah,” Cann said. “Utah Republicans wanted to come out and express their voice in opposition to Donald Trump.”
This was true for Cowdell, who voted for John Kasich.
“I don’t really like Ted Cruz. He’s way too conservative, and Trump is just crazy to me. Even though I know Kasich will never win the nomination.” Cowdell said, “I didn’t even care who is elected, as long as I feel like I was a part of it.”
Hase voted for Sanders. She believes voters like Sanders because he’s “relatable,” and he provides a “goodness of fit” to her own beliefs.
Hase and Cowdell also have personal convictions that drove them to the polls. Cowdell said it was her “civic duty” to vote, and people who don’t vote don’t have the right to complain. For Hase, she appreciates her right to vote as a woman, a privilege American women have had for less than 100 years. Also, as a social worker, it’s important to vote for candidates who are in the best interests of her clients.
“As a future social worker, as a woman, as someone who has worked with refugees and children living in poverty, it hurts me to see people just be so angry against people that aren’t hurtful,” Hase said.
As for how the rest of the election will turn out, Lyons is concerned. He believes Americans are “more disillusioned than ever.” He says far-leaning candidates like Trump, Cruz and Sanders will have difficulty passing anything through the Congress and the House of Representatives. Lyons advises voters to think critically about how a candidate will operate in the White House.
“This has been a dramatic year. It’s been a fascinating year. It’s been, in recent memory, unprecedented. But we can’t lose focus on the need to govern the nation after the election,” he said.