Poll: Utah GOP primary voters back President Trump, disapprove of Sen. Mitt Romney

(Patrick Semansky | AP file photo) President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials, Monday, June 8, 2020, at the White House in Washington.

Washington • Utah voters planning to cast ballots in the Republican primary this month are big fans of President Donald Trump but not so much of Sen. Mitt Romney, a new poll shows.

Two-thirds of Utahns who intend to vote in the June 30 primary say they somewhat or strongly support the job Trump is doing in the White House, while about 30% disapprove of his performance, a survey by The Salt Lake Tribune/Suffolk University found.

Meanwhile, Romney, who has sparred with the president of late and voted to remove him from office for abuse of power in the impeachment trial, is under water with the Republican crowd in Utah. Nearly 50% of those polled disapprove of Romney’s job in office while about 42% give him good marks.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

Those surveyed also seem to back Trump’s aggressive push to use the U.S. military to help quell protests in major American cities, some of which had turned violent last week. Of those polled, 60% said they’d back such a use of the military. Only 33% disapproved.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

The poll, which surveyed about 500 Utah voters who said they planned to vote in the GOP primary, skews more favorably to conservatives given the crowd that typically shows up to such an election.

About 73% of the poll’s respondents described themselves as Republicans, 17% as independents and 5% as Democrats who said they’d switch parties to cast ballots.

Other statewide polls have shown more support for Romney than Trump, who has hovered around or below 50% for most of his presidency.

But Romney’s star has sunk in some ways with conservatives since his February vote to convict Trump of one charge in the Senate impeachment trial. He was the only Republican to join minority Democrats in voting to impeach and Trump has repeatedly mocked and criticized him ever since.

“He's basically brought this on himself,” says Ron Fox, a Utah historian who is co-chairing Trump's reelection campaign in the state. “It's a sad commentary that he's chosen that path. But it's his path and he is now living with the results of it.”

The Tribune/Suffolk University poll comes out a day after Trump tweeted that Romney’s poll numbers were tanking in Utah and mocking him for marching with a group of Christians in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Sunday.

Romney’s office declined to comment on the poll.

The freshman senator, though, still has his fans in the state.

“He is doing better than the president does and he should take his place right now,” said Val Wood, who lives near Cedar City and participated in the Tribune/Suffolk poll. “He cares more for America than Trump ever has.”

Eighty-nine percent of those who said they are now unaffiliated or registered in a party other than Republican but plan to join the GOP to vote in the primary gave the president poor marks — including an overwhelming 78% who said they strongly disapproved.

But among Republicans, Trump enjoyed an 81% approval rating.

David Magleby, a professor emeritus of political science at Brigham Young University, says polling on primary elections is “often problematic” because it’s hard to be confident those saying they’re going to vote in the primary actually will.

That said, Magleby notes that the primary turnout leans toward Trump supporters.

“This poll suggests that Utah GOP primary voters are much more conservative and supportive of Trump than Utah Republicans generally,” Magleby said. “If true, it explains why the candidates [for governor] have not been critical of Trump.”

The GOP gubernatorial candidates — former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and ex-House Speaker Greg Hughes — have said they would support Trump in his reelection bid and steered away from saying anything negative about the president.

Some Utahns who are registering as Republicans to vote in the closed primary aren't so supportive of Trump.

“I couldn’t even watch The Apprentice, let alone vote for him,” said Lisa Morris of West Jordan, who switched from independent status to the GOP tent for the primary. She recalled growing up in New York and New Jersey and hearing warnings about Trump’s business practices and personal interactions. She’s a fan of Romney but not of the president.

“I was surprised anybody voted for him,” she said.

The Tribune/Suffolk University poll surveyed 500 likely GOP primary voters in the state from June 4 through June 7. The findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of Jon Huntsman, is chairman of The Salt Lake Tribune’s nonprofit board of directors.