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Political Polarization Can Leave Voters Feeling 'Homeless'

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As Super Tuesday approaches, it’s becoming more and more likely that Sen. Bernie Sanders will take the Democratic nomination for president. In a time where both political parties are swinging to further extremes, many Utahns may find themselves politically homeless and unable to feel comfortable in either major party. 

When it looked as though then-candidate Donald Trump would be getting the Republican nomination for president in 2016, Jonathan Choate left his leadership position in the Cache County Republican Party. 

Four years later, Choate said he is pleasantly surprised by the president’s policies, but the now-Libertarian hasn’t decided yet whether or not he would vote from Trump’s reelection. However, he is pretty sure of one thing:

“If it is Sanders, I will probably buy a MAGA hat,” Choate said. “Only because what we're talking about then is a sea change. And we're not talking about variations on how we want to run our policies. That is a change in the fundamental platform of the United States is.” 

Choate isn’t alone in his feelings. Karl Brown is a Republican in Cache County. He voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but said if Sanders receives the Democratic nomination this year, he will campaign for Trump, even though he likes Trump even less now.

For Brown, it isn’t that he doesn’t agree with anything the president is doing— there are lots of policies he supports and he wishes people would pay more attention to those things than they do Trump’s tweeting. However, it’s very important to him that the candidate he votes for has prior governmental experience. 

“There’s one I keep coming back. I feel like she's just getting overlooked,” Brown said. “I'm not sure why and I don't believe in a lot of her application to like operations of what she said she would do, but Amy Klobuchar. She's experienced and she believes in government the way I believe in it. She would, I think, be an outstanding president.”

There are policies Klobuchar is putting forth related to things like gun rights, health care and taxes that Brown does not support but he said this is where the Senate and judiciary system come in and provide checks and balances as decisions are made. He does believe though that she would be an excellent Commander in Chief. 

There are other Republicans and former Republicans in the state who are choosing to vote Democratic in this year’s elections, including Alissa Floyd Weller of Cache County. She describes herself as an ex-Republican and said even though she does not completely align with the Democratic Party, she supported Pete Buttitgeg and would have voted for him for president.

In Utah, the Republican primaries are closed while the Democratic primaries are open. This means any registered voter can vote Democratic in the state, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof. 

And while some more conservative voters may take advantage of this, Dillan Passmore, a student at Utah State University and a member of the campus’s College Republican club, pointed out that this approach isn’t a solution for all Republicans who feel alienated by Trump and other elements of the Republican party.

According to Passmore, there are many elements in the campaigns of Democratic candidates that may alienate those same voters.

“Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness, those types of things, which, on their face value aren't necessarily bad intentioned or bad things, but the actual specifics really alienated a lot of voters and make them feel uncomfortable in terms of, well, how are we structuring the economy? How is this going to affect me as an individual? You can go through this list,” Passmore said.

For him, he said he wouldn’t vote in the Democratic primary because he doesn’t think Republicans would be happy if Democrats were voting in their primary. 

In an effort to create a space for moderate voters who were feeling increasingly alienated by the two major parties, the United Utah Party formed after the 2016 elections. Richard Davis is the party chair and said he and others wanted to give Utahns more choices in elections. 

“What we're doing is providing a home for the politically homeless, for those people in the state who consider themselves to be, you know, more in the moderate side that could be moderate, in a more sort of center-left or center-right,” Davis said. “As well, but feel like the extremes of the two major parties don't fit them anymore.”

Davis said the party has ran multiple candidates in state elections and although none of them won, some of them did pretty well. In fact, one candidate who ran in Draper received 39% of the vote. 

While the option of the United Utah Party could make an impact on state races, it isn’t likely to provide a solution for people who want to vote for a more moderate candidate in the presidential election this fall. 

“To put it bluntly, we don't have a dog in the fight. We don't have a candidate,” Davis said.

Super Tuesday is this week and voters who are mailing their ballots back need to make sure they are postmarked by Monday. Voters can still turn in their ballots at a dropbox or vote in person on Tuesday.