Utah has not voted for a Democratic candidate for president since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater there by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, on his way to a 486 to 52 Electoral College landslide.
Ronald Reagan carried the state with more than 70 percent of the vote in 1980 and 1984, as did George W. Bush in 2004 and Mitt Romney, a Mormon with strong ties to the state, in 2012.
But the state’s six Electoral College votes may be in play this year despite the ideological disconnect between most Utah voters and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as a number of prominent Mormons, from Romney to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to talk-show host Glenn Beck, have made their opposition to GOP nominee Donald Trump well known.
Greg Hughes, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, is one of few prominent Mormon politicians to have enthusiastically endorsed Trump.
The most recent poll, conducted by UtahPolicy.com in late July and early August, gives Trump a 12 point lead over Clinton, 37 percent to 25 percent, with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, at a surprisingly high 16 percent. That poll suggests it’s Clinton, not Trump, who is in serious trouble in the state:
The last two UtahPolicy.com polls suggest Clinton needs to worry about being caught from behind by a third-party candidate.
It wouldn’t be the first time. In 1992, Bill Clinton finished in third place behind George H.W. Bush and businessman Ross Perot in Utah. That year, Bush failed to get a majority in the Beehive State, winning 47% of the vote. Perot got 27%, and Clinton won 24%.
Republicans in Utah have seemingly fallen in line behind Trump after rejecting him during the party’s March caucus when he finished in 3rd place. Now, 63% of Republican voters say they support the businessman who won their party’s nomination. In our June poll, 57% of Republicans said they would vote for Trump.
Not surprisingly, Utah Democrats are nearly united in their support of Hillary Clinton. 86% of Utah Democrats say they plan on voting for her in November. Clinton was crushed by Bernie Sanders in the March presidential preference vote, fueling speculation that Clinton might have trouble recovering after she locked up the nomination.
Johnson’s surge looks to be powered by independent voters who are starting to drift toward the Libertarian nominee. 28% of Utah independents say they plan to vote for Johnson. That’s a 13-point jump from June when Johnson was at 15%. Just 20% of Utah independents support Trump.
Johnson is seemingly not making inroads with Utah Republicans. In June, 9% of Republicans said they would vote for the former New Mexico governor. Now he gets 11% from that group.
But compared to recent GOP presidential candidates in Utah, Trump is under-performing.
Though a 12 point margin is much tighter than the presidential contest has been in recent years, the UtahPolicy.com results are an improvement for the GOP nominee from two earlier polls taken in June, which indicated the race between Trump and Clinton is a dead heat:
A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll in June showed Clinton and Trump tied at 35 percent each, with Libertarian Gary Johnson carrying 13 percent, and 16 percent of voters undecided.
Another survey, conducted in late May and early June by Florida-based Gravis Marketing, found Trump with 29 percent in Utah, Clinton with 26 percent and Johnson, 16 percent. Some 29 percent simply picked “other.”
That’s a remarkable switch from four years ago when Romney, an adopted Utah son who now lives in the state, snagged nearly 73 percent of Beehive State votes, leaving President Obama with 25 percent, the lowest percentage for Democrats in the state since 1992
In the Utah GOP primary caucuses held in March, Sen. Ted Cruz easily won all forty of the state’s delegates, stomping Trump in the Beehive State by a 69 percent to 14 percent margin.
GOP leaders in Utah have not warmed up to Trump since he secured the nomination. As David Drucker notes, GOP “party insiders . . . told the Washington Examiner in interviews Friday that Trump’s historic weakness there could be directly traced to his personal style, policies, and the manner in which he is running his presidential campaign.”
Utah Republicans don’t expect Trump to lose the state’s six Electoral College votes to Clinton (or Johnson.) The state is simply too Republican, and conservative, to shift its support to a liberal Democrat like Clinton.
It’s in Utah that Trump’s pitch about voting for him to protect the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, and his other traditional GOP positions, like across-the-board tax cuts, should resonate with Republicans and overcome whatever reticence they have toward him.
Utah’s GOP establishment has been slow to come around. Hughes has been among the minority of high profile Republicans to do so early. Sen. Mike Lee still refuses to endorse Trump. Others, like Sen. Orrin Hatch, have offered only begrudging support.
But just last week, Gov. Gary Herbert, who endorsed Ted Cruz in the Utah primary, which was won by the Texas senator, offered his seal of approval, saying during a news conference that that he would be casting a ballot for Trump in November. Herbert cited Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and the Supreme Court, as factors.
Mormon opposition to Trump arises from two sources: his personal style and his policy position on immigration.
From a policy perspective, Trump has a key advantage over Clinton, in addition to his announcement that he will nominate Scalia style conservatives for the Supreme Court: his strong support for the Second Amendment. In Utah, gun rights are very important, and Clinton’s promise to merely “regulate” the Second Amendment is viewed with great skepticism.
But those policy advantanges are not translating into the high levels of support other recent GOP presidential nominees have experienced in Utah.
On Thursday, Trump said his campaign has “a tremendous problem in Utah.”
The Washington Examiner‘s Drucker offered this explanation for the problem:
Utah Republicans remain uncomfortable both with the coarseness of Trump’s behavior on the stump and with the nominee’s signature proposals to ban Muslim immigration and crack down on illegal immigration.
Utah Mormons spend time abroad as missionaries trying to expand the reach of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a practice that informs their views on immigration and interaction with other races and cultures. It explains why Trump’s particular approach to reducing illegal immigration might be discomfiting.
Lee has said recently that their experience as a member of a religious minority also has made Utah Republicans concerned about earlier Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigration to the U.S. on religious grounds; the plan aims to reduce the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. He has since said he would temporarily ban immigration from nations where terrorism has taken root. . .
Just last week, Trump appeared to validate the concern, volunteering publicly that he was aware that he might be in trouble there.
That led Clinton to publish an op-ed on religious freedom in the Deseret News, a major newspaper in Salt Lake City. Bill Clinton was dispatched to Utah to raise money, another sign that the Democratic nominee might explore upping her play for the state’s electoral votes.
Trump is scheduled to submit his own op-ed to the Deseret News to run Aug. 21, after previously ignoring the paper’s invitation.
The recent announcement that an obscure Capitol Hill staffer who is a Mormon, Evan McMullin, will mount an independent campaign for president with financial backing from contributors with ties to Mitt Romney, combined with an effort to get McMullin on the ballot in Utah, suggest an organized effort to put Utah in play.
McMullin denies that his presidential campaign is an attempt to throw Utah to Hillary, but it’s hard to reach any other conclusion, given the “Never Trump” position of his campaign consultant, long-time inside-the-Beltway GOP operative Rick Wilson.
As Breitbart News reported earlier, McMullin is a harsh critic of Trump’s foreign policy:
As Donald Trump continues attacking Muslims and as a former CIA officer, I’d like all Americans to know the truth: American and other Muslims have played a central role in virtually every counterterrorism win we’ve had since 9/11. They are an indispensable asset in this fight. Attacking them as a group makes America weaker, not stronger.
As Breitbart noted, “According to McMullin’s LinkedIn profile, he worked in 2001 as a “Volunteer Refugee Resettlement Officer” for the United Nations, where he “vetted and processed UN-recognized refugees from the Middle East and Africa for resettlement to third countries.”
McMullin must submit 1,000 verified signatures to qualify to get on the ballot in Utah by Monday, August 15. While the GOP is likely to vigorously contest the validity of any signatures McMullin submits, 1,000 is a relatively low threshold to hit.
Late Monday, McMullin claimed he had submitted the needed 1,000 signatures and has qualified to be on the ballot in Utah.
If McMullin’s claim is unchallenged and he is on the ballot, it is unclear whether he will take votes away from Libertarian Johnson or the GOP standard bearer Trump.