Back to Top


KSL JAN 7 2024, PROVO — Utah ranked fourth in the nation for states with the largest political shift leftward between 2000 and 2020, according to research by a Brigham Young University sociologist.

Comparing presidential election vote shares from 2000 to 2020, Utah had one of the largest swings leftward in the United States — behind only Vermont, Colorado and Alaska, according to Jacob Rugh, associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

Utah went from giving President George W. Bush 66.8% of the vote, compared to 26.5% for Vice President Al Gore in 2000; (R+40) to President Donald Trump receiving 58.1% of the vote and President Joe Biden getting 37.7% of Utah's vote in 2020 (R+20).



Along the Wasatch Front — where more than 2 million of Utah's 3 million residents and 75% of Utah voters live — shifts to the left are even larger. In 2012, now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama by 43%. In 2020, Trump beat Biden by only 9%, Rugh's data shows.

Rugh attributes the shift leftward to Utah's changing demographics, religious landscape and hesitance among Utah voters toward Trump — and he expects Democrats in Utah to continue to gain support in the coming decades.


Utah becoming less religious


In 1990, 71% of Wasatch Front residents were members on the records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and 63% self-identified as members of the church in surveys, Rugh's latest data illustrates.

Thirty years later, in 2020, 60% of Wasatch Front residents are members of the church on record, and 51% of residents self-identified as members of the faith — a slim majority in a state originally founded by Mormon pioneers as a religious refuge.

Extrapolating on current trends, Rugh believes that in 2040, only 36% of Wasatch Front residents will consider themselves Latter-day Saints, and 50% will be members on the church's records.

That trend aligns with a decline of religious affiliation across America as population grows.

Between 2010 and 2020, the share of Americans who associated with religion dropped by 11 points, and the percentage of Americans who affiliated with no religion quadrupled from 1990 to 2020, Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, wrote in Politico earlier this year. Burge also notes that nearly ½ of Generation Z identifies as not religiously affiliated, and 46% of Biden voters in 2020 were not religious.


Latter-day Saints becoming less politically conservative


Burge has also analyzed data from Harvard University's Cooperative Election study to argue that young Latter-day Saints are significantly less conservative than their older counterparts — in no small part because Trump has prompted many young Latter-day Saint voters to leave the Republican Party. has previously reported on how traditionally-conservative church member voters voted for Trump in fewer numbers than prior presidential candidates, and how they were a key demographic in swing neighborhoods helping determine the 2020 election.

Rugh used the same data as Burge to show Utah is among the top five states for post-2016 voters voting more democratic than 2016 voters (plus 19 points, which is fourth highest of the 50 states). He found, in the 2020 election, 57% of Generation Z members of the Church of Jesus Christ voted for Democrats.

Utah voters also penalized candidates who denied the validity of the 2020 election by 12 points, which is twice the nationwide average, he notes.

"The anti-MAGA effect is like how people who grew up with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed Democrats and people who grew up with President Ronald Reagan stayed Republican," Rugh told MAGA refers to the "Make America Great Again" slogan of Trump's presidential campaign, and is shorthand for the style of political views Trump mainstreamed among Republican officials.

"Utah voters are going to be majority-Republican for a long time to come, but they are increasingly anti-MAGA," Rugh said. "This is about more than just Trump. It's also about Jan. 6 and the future of our constitutional democratic republic."


Demographic changes


Between 1990 and 2020, Rugh notes that Utah became less white, more college-educated and the number of women with college degrees more than doubled. And Pew Research has shown each of those demographic shifts correspond with a higher likelihood to affiliate with the Democratic Party.

Rugh analyzed voting data and found much of Provo — including neighborhoods surrounding BYU's campus — has shifted toward Democrats since the 2016 Election. In a 2020 survey of 400 Generation Z and Millenial BYU alumni, Rugh discovered not a single demographic polled held majority support for Trump. has also previously reported that Utah's growing tech sector and position as the youngest state in America contribute to its trend leftward.

The University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute noted in October that between 2010 and 2020, Utah transitioned from a small to a medium-sized state, characterized by external growth from net in-migration from states like California, increased multiculturalism, an aging population, a strong economy, declines in fertility and skyrocketing housing prices.

Natalie Gochnour, institute director, said the report illustrates "demographic and economic changes have created a new Utah."


Which counties are becoming more blue?


Northern and southern Utah have largely become more blue, Rugh's data show.

Comparing votes cast in the 2000 and 2020 elections, Rugh examined partisan shifts toward each party. A score of D+32, for example, means that a county performed an average of 32 percentage points more Democratic in 2020 than in 2000.

Counties with the largest shifts leftward from 2000 to 2020 are Summit (D +32), Salt Lake (D +32), Grand (D +29), Utah (D +27), Cache (D +25) and Davis (D +24), Rugh noted in November. Southern Utah is also shifting leftward, with Washington (D +10), Kane (D +21), San Juan (D +12), Garfield (D +18), Iron (D +9) and Wayne (D +8) counties all becoming slightly more Democratic.

Central Utah, however, is becoming more Republican, with Carbon County seeing the largest rise in Republican voters (R +40), with Beaver (R +26), Juab (R +25), Emery (R +23), Piute (R +16) and Duchesne (R +16) following behind.


What does this mean for the future?


Utah's Legislature, congressional districts and Senate seats are unlikely to be competitive in the coming years. However, national pollsters and political scientists are taking note of the Beehive State's changing politics.

"The effects of this shift in Utah will be delayed due to gerrymandered congressional district and state legislative district boundaries," Rugh said. "But it will start to manifest more in (the) 2030s."

Rugh acknowledges forecasting the political future is imprecise.

"Only time will tell. But I have been more right than others since I started defying the conventional wisdom about Utah since 2016. I've been more right than wrong," he said, referencing a forecast he developed with data scientist Armin Thomas which forecasted Evan McMullin would receive 43% of the vote against incumbent Senator Mike Lee in the 2022 Senate race.

McMullin ultimately received 42.8%.

Katie Workman is a former and KSL-TV reporter who works as a politics contributor. She has degrees from Cambridge and the University of Utah, and she's passionate about sharing stories about elections, the environment and southern Utah

Committee to Elect Chuck Goode
Close Menu