If the election for Utah’s next governor were held today, 41% of Republican voters would cast their ballot for Spencer Cox, according to the results of a poll released Wednesday by the Salt Lake Chamber.
The results show Cox, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, well positioned ahead of his expected and potential rivals for the 2020 Republican primary, including ambassador to Russia and former Gov. Jon Huntsman at 26%. Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes trails far behind at 6%.
And the poll suggests Cox maintains his lead when the race is narrowed to a head-to-head matchup with Huntsman, who is reportedly considering a return to the state and a potential campaign for a third term as governor.
In that hypothetical race, Huntsman pulls ahead among all voters (43% to 37%) while Cox maintains first position (45% to 34%) among the Republican voters who will be decisive in awarding the party’s nomination, according to the poll.
“As a candidate for the Republican nomination, these are the numbers that matter,” Cox said in a prepared statement. "We’ll continue working hard, visiting every city and town to meet as many Utahns as possible. But we are very encouraged that so many Utahns believe in our conservative vision for the state.”
Huntsman did not respond to a request for comment. Greg Hartley, a political adviser to Hughes, said that Cox had “hit the lottery” with the timing of the poll, and that he was surprised the lone declared candidate’s numbers were not even higher.
“During the three weeks this poll was conducted, [Cox] has spent his time as an unopposed candidate, giving speeches, advertising online, campaigning statewide and getting a significant amount of earned media,” Hartley said. “It’s almost as if the timing of the poll was coordinated.”
The poll was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates between June 11 and July 1 for the chamber’s new quarterly Utah Outlook report. It includes responses from 801 likely voters. For some of the gubernatorial questions, the sample size drops to either 758 or 759 as a result of responses being excluded after former Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he would not run for governor in 2020.
Only registered Republicans are able to vote in the Utah Republican Party primary. Of the poll’s 801 participants, 376 self-identified as Republicans, according to Dan Jones and Associates, giving those portions of the survey a margin of error of roughly 5 percentage points.
In a prepared statement, chamber President Derek Miller said the Utah Outlook is a new polling effort intended as a companion to the chamber’s CEOutlook, which surveys members of the state’s business community on politics and public policy.
“As these two regularly conducted surveys work together, we anticipate exciting new insights and actionable intelligence,” Miller said, “[and] useful data to keep our state at the cutting edge.”
Other potential gubernatorial candidates included in the poll were former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright, at 8% of Republican voters, and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, at 1%. The poll did not include Provo businessman Jeff Burningham, who is exploring a run and conducting a statewide listening tour.
Seventeen percent of Republican voters indicated they don’t know whom they would vote for, and 1% said they would support “the Democratic nominee” for governor.
Winder Newton said she has received positive feedback while exploring a run for governor, and that more voices — not fewer — are needed in next year’s Republican primary.
“I won’t be intimidated by political pundits who are trying to say the race is over before it starts,” she said.
The chamber also polled voters on this year’s election for Salt Lake City mayor. With a sample size of 149, 30% of voters said they would vote for former state Sen. Jim Dabakis, 15% said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, 12% said city Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, 8% said businessman David Ibarra, 5% said environmental lawyer David Garbett and another 5% said former city Councilman Stan Penfold.
A quarter of Salt Lake City voters indicated they don’t know whom they’d vote for if the election were today.
Editor’s note • Ambassador Jon Huntsman is a brother of Paul Huntsman, owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.