President Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in Utah has narrowed slightly since the beginning of October, though he’s still on track to claim the state’s six electoral votes.
Trump has a 7-point lead over Biden, 51% to 44%, according to a new survey from Y2 Analytics released Saturday. A poll from the same firm in early October found Trump ahead 50% to 40%. The surge in Biden’s support comes during a prolonged and worsening spike in coronavirus cases both in Utah and nationwide. About 5% of voters said they planned to vote for someone else.
Y2 pollster Quin Monson cautions against interpreting the results as a surge in support for Biden in the Beehive State.
“The presidential race has been quite stable nationally, and I think it’s actually been quite stable in Utah,” he said.
A better interpretation is the numbers demonstrate just how unpopular the president is in Republican-dominated Utah. In 2016, Trump carried the state with 45.5%, but independent candidate Evan McMullin captured nearly 22% that year. This year, there’s no third-party option capturing a significant amount of support, yet Trump isn’t polling much higher than he was four years ago.
The poll found 48% of likely Utah voters said they would “definitely” vote for Trump, while 40% said the same for the Democratic candidate. Just 2% of Trump and Biden voters said they could change their minds before they cast a ballot.
Utah Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant said the numbers show there may be a political realignment happening in the state.
“We’ve been saying for years that Utah is quickly transitioning to a purple state. The last national Democrat to break 40 percent was Lyndon B Johnson. For Joe Biden to be at 44 percent shows both his strength as a candidate and the loosening grip Republicans have on Utah politics,” he said.
Derek Brown, Utah GOP Chair, wasn’t worried about the single-digit margin in the poll.
“As a party, we fully expect the President to easily win his election here in Utah. Most polls tend to underestimate the President’s general level of support across the board," he said.
Trump will undoubtedly outpace his 2016 performance in Utah this year, but it appears the race will be closer here than it was four years ago. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 18 points four years ago, but Biden is set to massively improve on Clinton’s performance. That’s primarily a function of the absence of McMullin on the ballot. The Y2 survey found that voters who went for McMullin four years ago are splitting their vote evenly between Trump and Biden, with 45% set to cast a ballot for Trump and 45% going to Biden.
Utah’s electoral competitiveness may raise some eyebrows this year, but it certainly is in line with national polling and Trump’s troubles in states he won easily in 2016. Nationally, Biden is ahead by 8.6% in the FiveThirtyEight polling average. Trump leading Biden by just 7 points in Utah is closer than the polling averages in other reliably Republican states like Alaska (Trump +7.9%), Idaho (Trump +19.9%), Indiana (Trump +9.1%), Kansas (Trump +10.3%) and Mississippi (Trump +16.1%).
Neighboring Arizona has become one of the hottest battleground states. Both Trump and Biden have been campaigning hard for the state’s 11 electoral votes.
Y2′s survey found Biden with a small lead over Trump there 50% to 47%. That’s in line with the FiveThirtyEight.com average that has Biden ahead 3.1 percentage points in Arizona. And 48% of voters in Arizona said they were “definitely” planning on voting for Biden, while 45% said the same for Trump. Just 1% of Biden voters and 2% of Trump voters said they might change their minds.
Support from Latter-day Saint voters could prove key to the win in Arizona. That group makes up about 6% to 8% of the voting population there. LDS support for the Republican presidential ticket dropped nationwide from 80% in 2004 to 61% in 2016, according to Pew. This year both Trump and Biden are actively courting LDS voters in Arizona. Earlier this week, Utah Sen. Mike Lee participated in several Trump campaign events targeting Latter-day Saints, including one where he awkwardly compared Trump to Captain Moroni, a figure from the Book of Mormon.
Trump leads Biden among LDS voters in Arizona by a 76% to 18% margin, but that’s not necessarily bad news for the Democratic nominee. Trump’s support from Latter-day Saints is essentially unchanged from 2016, according to the Y2 survey, but the percentage of members who back Biden has doubled from four years ago when just 9% said they voted for Hillary Clinton.
That jump in LDS support for Biden could be a critical factor in Tuesday’s election. Trump carried Arizona by 3.5%, with 48% of the vote in 2016. That’s nearly the same as the 47% he gets in this current survey, but Biden is more than 6-points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 44.5% from four years ago.
LDS voters in Utah are much less enthusiastic about Trump than their counterparts in Arizona when you look at the two surveys. Trump’s support among LDS voters in Utah is running about 11 points behind his numbers in Arizona, with 65% of Latter-day Saints in Utah backing Trump. That support increases to 68% in Utah among self-identified “very active” members.
“Evan McMullin did not qualify for the ballot in Arizona in 2016,” said Monson, which he believes is a significant factor in Trump’s tepid support among Utah’s Latter-day Saints.
“He wasn’t an option for LDS voters in Arizona four years ago, so you see those voters returning to Trump there in the same numbers," he said. "But in Utah, McMullin pulled a significant number of those voters in 2016, and many of them are still reluctant to get behind Trump. I wonder if McMullin had made it on the ballot in Arizona you’d see a difference.”
Utah’s race for governor
Back in Utah, the Y2 survey finds Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox polling better than Trump, as he leads Democrat Chris Peterson in the gubernatorial race 58% to 33%. That’s virtually identical to Y2′s survey from the beginning of October when Cox led Peterson 57% to 33%.
Cox enjoys bipartisan support in his bid to succeed Gov. Gary Herbert, with 82% of Republicans, 14% of Democrats and 42% of unaffiliated voters backing the front-runner. Peterson draws support from 83% of Democrats and 46% of unaffiliated voters. Those numbers would need to be much higher for him to pull the unlikely upset. Y2 had polled for Cox in the primary election, but the firm says it is not working for any Utah federal or statewide candidate during the general election
Y2′s survey of the Arizona Senate race found Democratic challenger Mark Kelly leading Republican Sen. Martha McSally by 4 points, 51% to 47%. Democrats are hoping to flip control of this seat as part of their bid to gain control of the upper chamber in Congress. Lee was in Arizona campaigning for McSally this weekend.
Y2 polled 660 likely voters in Utah and 700 likely voters in Arizona from Oct. 15 to 24, using a mix of online surveys and phone calls. The margin of error in the Utah survey is 3.8 percentage points while Arizona’s is 3.7 percentage points.
The Salt Lake Tribune will update this article.