Utah History Encyclopedia


By John Sillito
Since statehood, Utah politics generally has resembled prevailing national patterns emphasizing the Republican and Democratic parties. As is also the case nationally, however, Utah has also seen the involvement of third and independent parties in electoral contests. Many of these parties have constituted Utah affiliates of nationally organized groups; others have been purely local in scope.

The most successful of the first group was the Socialist party, which elected over 100 Utahns to a variety of offices throughout the state in the first two decades of statehood. Despite Socialist party success, other leftist parties have had only modest support. In the early twentieth century, the Socialist Labor party appealed to Utah voters for support for its presidential ticket and, occasionally, for local offices as well. Similarly, since the 1930s, the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Labor party appealed to Utah voters for support for its presidential ticket and, occasionally, for local offices as well. Similarly, since the 1930s, the Communist Party USA and the Socialist Workers party have fielded national tickets and candidates for other offices as well. In the 1991 municipal elections, Socialist Workers party member Nancy Boyasko ran a strong second in Salt Lake City's fourth council district, receiving over 40 percent of the votes cast. In 1968 activist-folk singer Bruce Phillips (now known as U. Utah Phillips) ran a strong race for the U.S. Senate as the Peace and Freedom party nominee, garnering some 3,300 votes. Since 1980, non-restrictive ballot laws have allowed the presidential nominees of the Communist, Citizens, New Alliance, Socialist, Populist, and American Independent parties to gain spots on the Utah ballot.

Progressive, though not necessarily socialist, parties have fared better. In 1912 dissident Republicans in the Beehive State joined with their colleagues nationally to support the "Bull Moose" crusade of Theodore Roosevelt. Running as the Progressive nominee, Roosevelt received 24,074 votes, 21 percent of the total vote cast, and the party fielded strong candidates for state and local offices as well. Two years later the Progressives and their allies in the Democratic party "fused" and elected joint candidates to various offices, including the state legislature. In 1924 various labor, liberal, and leftist groups supported the Progressive campaign of Robert LaFollette, who received 32,514 votes in the state. In 1948 a number of prominent Utah liberals and supporters of organized labor helped organized the Progressive party, which supported former vice-president Henry A. Wallace as its standard bearer.

In 1920 a similar coalition had united behind Utah attorney Parley P. Christensen in his presidential bid on the Farmer-Labor ticket. In more recent years, two individuals with Utah ties have been third-party presidential candidates. In 1960 former governor and Salt Lake mayor J. Bracken Lee was the nominee for president of the Conservative Party of New Jersey. In 1984 the Citizen's party nominated Sonia Johnson, a native of Logan, who gained public attention for her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and her subsequent excommunication from the LDS Church. Two other Utahns, Lawrence Topham and Earl Jeppson, were unsuccessful candidates on separate occasions for the American party nomination.

Ironically, one third party which has never done particularly well in Utah was the Prohibition party. Despite several attempts, and occasional ballot status, in the 1900 to 1920 period, prohibitionists have not been successful in appealing to the Utah electorate, although many of the state's residents are abstainers from alcohol.

Conservative third parties have enjoyed some success in Utah in the post-World War II period. In 1968 the American party was organized nationally to support the presidential candidacy of George Wallace. The former Alabama governor, whose request to have Apostle Ezra Taft Benson as his running mate was refused by LDS Church leaders, polled 26,980 votes in Utah. The American party remained a minor but vocal presence in the state's politics for another decade, frequently fielding candidates for congressional, state, and local offices. The party was sufficiently strong enough in Utah to attract the location of the national office for a time, but eventually was thwarted by the growing conservatism of Utah's Republican party.

Since the late 1970s the Libertarian party has emerged as the most viable Utah third party, running presidential candidates and also contesting congressional, state, and local offices. During that period of time, Utahns joined with other Americans in placing the independent presidential bids of Eugene McCarthy in 1976, and that of John Anderson in 1980, on the Utah ballot. Running as the National Unity party nominee, Anderson polled 30,284 votes and united a coalition of Utahns, many of whom having previously been active in Republican and Democratic politics.

The most successful purely local third party was the American party of the 1904 to 1910 period. The American party, which had the support of the Salt Lake Tribune, was led by former senator Thomas Kearns, and campaigned against the influence of the LDS Church in Utah politics. The party successfully dominated municipal governments in Ogden and Salt Lake City for a period of time. During those same years, a number of independent labor parties were created in Utah, running candidates for local office on platforms supporting the aspirations of organized labor. Moreover, several Utah politicians, most notably J. Bracken Lee, have organized short-term independent parties to support their bids for office.

In a similar vein, in 1988 a businessman and former Republican party candidate Merrill Cook organized the Independent Party of Utah. Championing tax reduction and reducing government spending, Cook polled 136,651 votes for Governor, 21 percent of the total vote cast, attracting support from both Republicans and Democrats. Cook, who briefly flirted with returning to the Republican ranks, was the Independent party candidate for governor again in 1992, again running unsuccessfully.