Chamber poll has Spencer Cox, Jon Huntsman virtually tied in race for Utah governor

(Ivy Ceballo | Deseret News, pool) Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former House Speaker Greg Hughes, former Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright participate in the Utah Gubernatorial Republican Primary Debate at the PBS Utah studio at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 1, 2020.

A new poll in the primary race for Utah governor has the two front-runners — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman — in a virtual dead heat just days before the election.

With 30% support, Cox was 1 one percentage point ahead of Huntsman in the Salt Lake Chamber survey conducted June 17 to 24 and released Thursday. That gap is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.77 percentage points.

The polling firm, Dan Jones & Associates, indicated the race is simply too close to call between the front-runners and “turnout will be the deciding factor as it is in most every close election.”

“There are many extraordinary dynamics that will likely affect voter turnout including COVID-19, civil unrest, and that this is the first election where voters can vote only by mail,” the pollster said.

Cox was ahead by a wider margin among the 492 respondents who said they’d already cast their ballots, leading Huntsman by 35% to 30%, just outside the poll’s margin of error. On the other hand, Huntsman appeared to have the upper hand among the 755 people who said they hadn’t yet cast a ballot but would; these voters backed Huntsman over Cox by 29% to 27%, although that difference was inside the poll’s margin of error.

Former House Speaker Greg Hughes ranked third in the overall poll, pulling 15% support, while former state GOP chairman Thomas Wright came in last with 6%. Nineteen percent of those surveyed said they preferred not to say who they’ll vote for in the June 30 primary.

“We’re energized that the final poll before the election shows us leading,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “While we feel the momentum is with us, we will keep pushing strong until the end.”

Abby Huntsman, spokeswoman for her father’s campaign, said the survey shows the race is “trending our way.”

“As more issues, including the state’s handling of COVID-19, have come to light, we believe more voters are looking for the experience that Jon Huntsman has to offer,” she said in a statement.

Wright questioned the poll methodology and said the results don’t line up with the numbers he’s seen. Support for his campaign has been growing since last week’s two-hour debate hosted by KUTV and the Pioneer Park Coalition, he added.

“We’ve had a lot of energy and a lot of momentum,” he said, adding that he thinks “the numbers are going to surprise people” on primary election day.

The survey, contacted by both landlines and cellphones, includes registered Republicans likely to vote and Democratic and unaffiliated respondents who said they planned to register as Republicans in time to vote in the GOP race. The deadline for Democrats to switch parties was June 19, although unaffiliated voters still can participate in the Republican primary if they cast a ballot at one of the drive-thru voting locations on Tuesday.

A chamber spokesman said the polling firm stopped surveying Democrats after the June 19 deadline. Respondents were asked if they’d already submitted their ballot in the 2020 primary election, and if so, who they’d supported for governor, according to the chamber. Respondents who said they hadn’t yet cast their ballots were asked who they would likely vote for.

Other recent polls have also indicated Cox and Huntsman are neck-and-neck for the GOP nomination.

Cox had a slight edge over Huntsman in a Salt Lake Tribune/Suffolk University poll conducted in early June, while a recent KUTV/UtahPolicy.com survey had Cox with 34% support and Huntsman with 30%.

The winner of the GOP primary will go on to face Democrat Chris Peterson in the general election for governor.

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