Washington • Most Utahns would oppose President Donald Trump for re-election and a majority support Sen. Mitt Romney’s criticisms of the president, a new poll finds.
The Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 54 percent of Utah voters — usually among the most conservative in the nation — would probably or definitely not vote to re-elect the president in 2020, while the same number of voters say they approve of Romney standing up to Trump.
Romney, a former GOP presidential nominee who is now Utah’s newest senator, has said he would work with Trump when they agree, but he wouldn’t back down if he believes Trump’s actions or rhetoric are wrong.
That appears to play well among Utahns, especially Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who are clearly not fans of Trump. For the record, the poll was conducted Jan. 15-24 during the longest government shutdown in American history.
“The timing is obviously very difficult for the president because he is suffering from increased scrutiny and condemnation for the shutdown and then for at least momentarily backing out of the shutdown,” said Kirk Jowers, the former head of the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah. “So I think those numbers could certainly improve over the next few months.”
Utah’s numbers largely are in line with national polls showing most Americans opposed to re-electing the president.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed recently that 56 percent of Americans say they would “definitely not vote for” Trump, with 14 percent saying they may and 28 percent saying they definitely would.
Trump’s approval rating in Utah has hovered around 50 percent since he took office, a low number for a Republican president in the deep-red Beehive State that has not voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And Trump’s election win in Utah fell short of a majority.
That said, Jowers said whether Utahns vote against Trump depends on who else is on the ticket — something the poll did not address.
“The main thing that Trump has in his favor with Utah is that in a vacuum we don’t like him a lot,” Jowers said. “But against [Vermont Independent Sen.] Bernie Sanders, his popularity skyrockets.”
As for Romney, Jowers, a longtime friend and supporter of his, said that the poll numbers showing support for the new senator match what Romney ran on in the first place: Not being a thorn in Trump's side but also not being a sycophant.
“Utah Republicans have consistently been among the least receptive to President Trump,” Jowers said. “And so I think Romney is representing his constituents very well by being with the president on a law or policy that they support, but standing up strongly to him when he’s unnecessarily divisive.”
Utahns, Jowers added, support Trump because he’s a Republican, not because he’s Trump, and state residents are more likely to back Romney, who has pushed back on the president, including in a recent Washington Post op-ed where he said, “The president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”
While just over half of Republicans disapprove of Romney being critical of Trump, unaffiliated voters — who make up the second-largest bloc of Utah voters — and Democrats back Romney in not falling in lockstep with the president.
Romney’s office declined to comment.
Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, a Republican who has been supportive of Trump, chalked up Utahns’ opposition to the president’s re-election to the timing of the poll during the shutdown.
“The narrative or the perception is that it’s the president’s doing,” Hughes said. “And I think to ask that question during the time that we’re in right now, I would think there would be a higher level of angst than normal.”
Plus, Hughes said, citing polls that showed Trump wasn’t likely to win the presidency in the first place, there are voters who are afraid to tell pollsters they support Trump.
“I still think you’ve got to factor in the shy Trump vote out there. That’s out there,” Hughes said.
Daisy Thomas, the chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party, said the poll numbers align with the concern voters have about how Trump has acted as president, especially in light of the 35-day shutdown prompted by his demand for a physical border wall.
“You know that I think the majority of Utah is saying that the [Republican Party], at least here, is not listening to the citizens’ voices,” Thomas said. “And I think that it’s magnified with our president using American workers as pawns in his game.”
There may also be some buyer’s remorse in the poll numbers, Thomas said, with voters who thought Trump would upend Washington but has actually broadened the partisan gap.
“I think a lot of people maybe voted for him thinking it would be a change from being bad for American families,” she said. “But honestly we’re seeing it’s the same old same old without the veneer of politeness.”
As in most polls involving Trump, there is a significant gender gap. Only 35 percent of women said they would vote to re-elect the president, while 47 percent of men said they would support him in the 2020 election.
The Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll questioned 604 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Respondents were contacted by landline telephone (39 percent), cellphone (36 percent) and online (25 percent). Telephone interviews were conducted by live interview agents. Online responses were invited by email via an online email panel. The data were weighted by gender, age category, affiliation, county, congressional district and religious preference.