Utah poll has Trump up 10, and a big majority don’t see him as a person of faith

(Tia Dufour | The White House via AP) In this image provided by the White House, President Donald Trump in his conference room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.

President Donald Trump has a 10-point lead over Joe Biden in Utah with less than a month to go before the presidential election.

The survey from Y2 Analytics found Trump ahead of Biden by a roughly 50% to 40% split among likely voters, while about 10% said they favored another candidate. The number of respondents who said they were undecided was tiny and would make up about 1%.

Y2 surveyed 1,214 likely voters online from Sept. 26 to Oct. 4. The latter half of that time period covers the aftermath of Trump’s bombastic debate with Biden as well as the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalization. The statewide poll, released Monday, asked a number of questions diving into how voters perceive the president, what they think of the Supreme Court nomination fight and if they believe Trump, Biden and others are religious.

Trump’s lead over the former vice president is expected, but the relatively small margin is indicative of how unpopular the president is in deep-red Utah. Trump carried Utah in 2016 with 45.5% of the vote, in a race where a third party candidate was viable. Currently, that level of support is only slightly higher when this is a two-person race.

Biden’s 40% in the poll is remarkable if for no other reason than it’s been more than a half-century since a Democrat received that much support in Republican-dominated Utah. Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in the 1964 election with 59.4%, but no other Democrat has broken the 40% level since then. Hubert Humphrey came the closest with 37% in 1968.

“Despite the conventional wisdom, it’s clear the president has convinced a chunk of additional Utahns to join his side over the last four years,” said Danny Laub, a national political consultant with the Republican firm POOLHOUSE.

Utah Republicans are solidly behind Trump (81%) while Democrats overwhelmingly prefer Biden (95%). Nearly half the independent voters line up behind Biden (49%) while 26% support Trump. The other 24% of independent voters say they support another candidate.

“It’s hard to see any additional shift coming in any meaningful way in the closing weeks of this campaign,” added Laub.

Most Utah voters are already locked into their choice at the top of the ticket with 44% of Trump voters saying they will “definitely” vote for him, while 36% say the same about Biden. Just 4% of Trump voters say they might change their mind as do 2% of Biden voters, leaving little room for movement before Election Day. The poll has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

It’s difficult to effectively gauge how Trump’s level of support has changed because the 2016 results were complicated by the presence of independent candidate Evan McMullin, who reeled in 21.5% of the vote. Y2 found that those Utahns who voted for McMullin four years ago are almost evenly splitting their vote this year — 41% for Biden and 40% for Trump.

There is a considerable gender gap in Utah. Male voters favor Trump by 25 points while women favor Biden by 4 points. Combine the two numbers and you get a 29 percentage point division between the two candidates, which is similar to the 30-plus gender margin seen in national polls.

While male voters are solidly behind Trump, female voters are more evenly divided between the two candidates. Y2 pollster Scott Riding says a close race nationally could potentially move those voters.

“As Election Day nears, one of the identities that starts to take over is partisanship outside of gender. If the race is close, then some Trump voters may come home. But, if the race is seen out of Trump’s reach, then they may feel more license to vote outside of their partisan leanings,” he said.

Trump has enjoyed a consistent lead over Biden in the few polls conducted in Utah since last year, averaging a 14-point lead. However, the two previous polls from Y2 might be seen as outliers, showing only 5 points between Trump and Biden.

Trump’s polling numbers have taken a massive hit since the first presidential debate last week. Before the debate in Cleveland, Biden led Trump by an average of 7 points nationally. A raft of new polls conducted since the debate showed Biden’s lead increased to anywhere from 8 to 14 points.

Battle for religious voters

Both Trump, who was raised Presbyterian but is more often found on the golf course than in church on Sundays, and Biden, who would become the second Catholic president if elected, have been courting voters of faith.

But few Utahns said they see either candidate as particularly religious.

Asked whether they view the president as a man with religious values, 63% of poll respondents said they did not, while 37% indicated they do think he is a person of faith.

And when ranking Trump’s religious faith on a scale from one to seven, with seven being “very religious,” 37% of respondents chose one, saying they did not think the president was “religious at all.” Just 4% put him at the highest end of the spectrum, while 60% ranked his faith as a level “three” or lower.

Asked about the Democratic nominee, 26% of respondents said they didn’t see Biden as religious at all, while just 7% said they saw him as “very religious.” A little over half ranked his level of faith as a “three” on the scale or lower.

Biden and Trump have made overtures to Latter-day Saint voters, a group Trump struggled to gain a foothold among in his 2016 election.

During that race, Trump acknowledged he had a “tremendous problem in Utah,” where many of the state’s 2.1 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed discomfort with his brash style and rhetoric about women and immigrants. And while Trump did ultimately win, he earned the lowest percentage of the vote among GOP presidential candidates in Utah since 1992.

It’s unclear how his popularity among members of the faith may have been affected by a recent story — published in The Atlantic during the time this poll was out in the field — that said he has mocked Latter-day Saints and their practices in private. That includes jokes about the religious undergarments worn by devout members and blaming Sen. Mitt Romney’s faith for his loss in the 2012 presidential election, according to the story.

Still, the Y2 Analytics poll showed that just under half the active Latter-day Saints said they’ll definitely vote for Trump, at 49%. And another 10% said they’d likely vote for the president, though 6% said they could change their mind and 4% said they would pick Trump if they “had to choose.”

About 22% of active Latter-day Saints said they’ll cast a vote for Biden.

While Utahns don’t see the president as particularly religious, they have a different assessment of Vice President Mike Pence, who once described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

About 37% of poll respondents placed Pence on the highest end of the religion scale, while 5% of respondents said they viewed him as “not religious at all.” Overall, 82% of respondents ranked Pence’s religious faith as higher than a four out of seven.

Pence has supported causes important to evangelicals since his time as an Indiana congressman and has particularly been vocal about his opposition to abortion, an issue dear to many people of faith.

Utahns saw Biden’s pick for vice president, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, as the least faithful in the poll. About 41% said they did not believe she was religious at all, and 66% ranked her faith as a three on the scale or lower. Just 3% said they saw her as “very religious.”

The California lawmaker is a member of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco but grew up in a home that accommodated both Christian and Hindu practices.

She and Pence will face off Wednesday in a debate at the University of Utah that carries extra weight as the president battles the coronavirus.

Trump, 74, became the oldest incoming president when he won the White House. But Biden, who is 77, would top that if elected — a reality that requires the vice presidential candidates to assure the public they would be ready to assume office, if necessary.

Harris, in another demonstration of the campaign’s overtures to Latter-day Saints voters, took a 20-minute walk Saturday around This Is the Place Heritage Park at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, an iconic monument that honors the Latter-day Saint pioneers who came into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. She arrived in Utah early to take a tour of the state and spend a few days preparing for the debate.

Supreme Court confirmation fight

When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18, Senate Republicans announced plans to move rapidly on confirming her replacement. Days later, Trump nominated 7th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

In 2016, Republicans famously refused to hold a confirmation hearing or vote for Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to fill the opening created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that, in an election year, the voters should have a voice in the Supreme Court nomination and give the choice to the winner in November.

Most Utahns say they don’t want the Senate to follow the same playbook they did four years ago. The Y2 poll found that 57% want them to vote on a nominee before the Nov. 3 election, while 43% say the Senate should wait and allow the winner of the 2020 election to nominate a new justice. The poll found that 89% of Republicans want the Senate to move quickly while 98% of Democrats and 63% of independent voters say the Senate should wait.

The GOP plan to fast-track Barrett’s nomination is in jeopardy after three Republican senators, including Utah’s Mike Lee, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Views on Trump

As part of the survey, respondents were provided with opposite phrases and asked to indicate which one best reflected their impression of the president — and the responses reflect a deep divide between how Republicans and Democrats view Trump.

Overall, 49% of poll respondents said they see Trump as a man who cares about America, while 51% of respondents said they think he cares only about himself. That relatively even split is comprised of two parties with strongly different opinions. About 82% of Republicans believe the president cares about the United States while a big majority of Democrats, 97%, said they think he cares more for himself.

About 60% of active Latter-day Saints voters said he cares about America. Women were more likely to think Trump cares only for himself, at 59%, compared with 42% of men who said the same.

Respondents were about evenly split on their assessment of Trump as a weak or strong leader, but once again there’s a partisan divide. Poll results show 81% of Republicans view his leadership in a positive light, while just 5% of Democrats said the same. At 55%, a little more than half the women viewed him as a weak leader compared with 44% of men.

The respondents were more definitive on the question of whether the president was honest or dishonest. Just 38% said they think Trump is “an honest man,” and 62% said they think he is dishonest. Among Republicans, 64% viewed him favorably, while 36% said they thought he was dishonest. Just over 30% of Democrats thought he was honest and 69% said he was not.