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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Utah's Blue Wave: Some Areas Reveal Changing Demographics And Tastes

A photo of voters in Provo fill out their ballots during the last hours of the 2020 election.
David Fuchs
Voters in Provo fill out their ballots during the last hours of the 2020 election. As of Friday, five precincts in Provo went blue in this election. Jacob Rugh, an associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, said those went for Evan McMullin in 2016.

In 2016, Grand County went for President Donald Trump. But, in 2020, it flipped for former Vice President Joe Biden.

While he only won around 800 more votes in Grand County this year than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, it was enough to turn the county blue.

And that’s probably not a coincidence, according to Grand County Democratic Party chair Kevin Walker. He said he’s been tracking voter preferences in the county over the past four years using a database, and it shows the county grows around 0.5% more progressive each year.

“It sounds kind of morbid, but a lot of old conservative voters die each year and a lot of young people turn 18 or move here to be a bike mechanic,” Walker said. “So I think there is that slow demographic trend.”

He is one of three Democrats who won seats on Grand County’s seven-member commission this year, displacing two conservatives. That means the county’s government is completely run by progressives now, which Walker said could lead to some big changes — like a ban on all-terrain vehicles on city streets.

He also said he’s interested in collaborating with San Juan County on the state level, since it’s also controlled by Democrats. That could mean lobbying the Legislature on issues like protecting public lands, as well as the Utah Association of Counties.

“Grand and San Juan Counties are blue beachheads in Utah,” he said. “[There are] democratic majorities in both places, and if you look at voting patterns for either governor or [other statewide offices], this isn’t a new thing.”

Meanwhile, in Provo, five voting precincts turned blue this election. Earlier results showed nine flipping, but that changed when more votes were counted.

Jacob Rugh, associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University and a proud Democrat, said he saw it coming. In September, he projected seven precincts in Provo would go blue. He said one reason for Biden’s success is the influence of third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin from the last election.

“Provo was the epicenter of voting for McMullin in 2016,” Rough said. “McMullin was a bridge to this moment, where they voted more moderately than a more conservative surrounding area. On campus [I saw] that among the young people, there did not appear to be a big movement among McMullin voters to be going for Trump. And in fact, McMullin did endorse Joe Biden.”

Another reason Rugh mentioned — similar to in Grand County — is a change in demographics around the BYU campus.

“We have a lot more students of color,” he said. “Jenna Rakuita ran for House District 63 [in Provo], a Pacific Islander woman of color on the Democratic ticket. She was out there registering voters. We had LGBTQ rights marches. We had Black Lives Matter marches. All those things matter in building up enthusiasm.”

Rugh said it’s possible the McMullin and Biden voters in Provo could swing Republican again if the nominee is more moderate, but he said there’s no reason to assume they won’t vote blue next time around.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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