A week ahead of Election Day, a pair of new polls in Utah’s U.S. Senate race have been released, neither of which are great news for independent Evan McMullin, each for different reasons.
First, let’s look at the Emerson College poll, which shows Lee leading by 10% — 49% for Lee to 39% for McMullin among likely voters in the 2022 midterm election.
Digging a little deeper into the numbers, we can see why the gap has opened from earlier independent polling on the race: It looks like the millions of dollars in negative advertising targeted at McMullin is having the desired effect, damaging his reputation among voters.
The Emerson poll found that 41% now have a favorable impression of McMullin, compared to 50% who have an unfavorable impression, the first time his image among voters has been underwater like that.
The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll early this month had 42% of voters with a favorable impression of McMullin compared to 30% unfavorable. And a poll from September by Center Street PAC, which is pro-McMullin, had a 40% to 24% favorable-unfavorable split.
While we need to be a little careful comparing across polls like this, such significant movement is a pretty clear indicator the ads are doing damage.
Lee’s favorability, meanwhile, is over 50% for the first time, with 52% having a favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of the senator, and 44% having an unfavorable opinion.
Again, compare that to the Deseret News poll where it was Lee who was upside down, with 47% viewing him unfavorably and 40% favorably, and you can see that his reputation hasn’t suffered and, in fact, appears to have improved.
In fact, I don’t recall seeing a poll in years that showed Lee with a net positive favorability rating so, if the Emerson poll is right, it’s a big deal for him.
The second poll out Monday was done by Hill Research by the pro-McMullin Utah First SuperPAC. We don’t have the full results, but veteran political consultant Mike Murphy Tweeted the big takeaway, that the survey found Lee at 47% to McMullin’s 46% — so basically a toss-up.
Good news on the surface, but the group’s last poll conducted earlier this month had McMullin ahead by six points, which means, even given the margin of error, their figures show a shift toward Lee in recent weeks.
There’s one more factor that impacts the current landscape: Lee has consistently done better in polls that survey likely voters (like the Emerson poll did) as opposed to just registered voters (as the Hill Research poll did).
The disparity is illustrated in a Center Street poll released on Oct. 12 that showed the race very close among registered voters, 38% to 37% in Lee’s favor, but opening up to a 50%-38% Lee advantage among likely voters. But a cautionary note, the likely voter sample was very small, increasing the margin of error.
As a somewhat related sidenote, the Emerson poll found that an endorsement from Donald Trump — which Lee has received, but not publicized — would do more harm than good in the eyes of most voters. But the same is true of an endorsement by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. The poll found that 42% would be less likely to vote for a Trump-endorsed candidate and 38% would be less likely to vote for a Romney-endorsed candidate.
That tidbit aside, I think the takeaways are basically: 1) Any gains McMullin seemed to be made in September and early October was blunted by the flood of outside groups running attack ads that have hurt his image in voters’ eyes; 2) The race seems to be moving in Lee’s direction; 3) McMullin is really going to have to mobilize his supporters to turn out in huge numbers if he is going to have a shot at pulling off the upset.