Jana Riess: Trump’s popularity eroding in Utah, especially among women

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) U.S. President Donald Trump, surrounded by Utah representatives, looks at then-Sen. Orrin Hatch to give him the pen used to signs a presidential proclamation to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Trump's popularity since that moment has slumped in Utah.

President Donald Trump’s re-election chances seem to be slipping away, and even some Latter-day Saints are deserting him.

Nationwide, the spread between Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and Trump has widened. In March, Biden led by just 4 percentage points, and then by 5 or 6 in April and May. As of today, Biden is ahead in FiveThirtyEight’s average of political polls to the tune of 9.5 percentage points nationally.

Biden’s lead now pertains in almost every swing state that could prove critical in the November election, including Michigan (up 10.7), Wisconsin (up 9.7), Pennsylvania (up 8.1), Florida (up 7.3), Arizona (up 4.8), and North Carolina (up 2.9).

It’s a sign of Trump’s troubles that even Mormon-majority Utah, which has not been competitive for a Democratic candidate in over 50 years, is growing colder toward the president.

Trump is still likely to win Utah, where he’s currently polling ahead of Biden by 7.5 points. But, in late February, before the pandemic, he was more than 19 points ahead.

And that 19 points was actually close by Utah standards. Given the fantastical 40- and 50-point sweeps of previous Republican candidates in this reddest of states, a single-digit lead is a disaster. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama here by 73% to 25%. And, in 1984, Ronald Reagan trounced Walter Mondale with nearly 75% of the vote.

A majority of Utah voters (52%) now say they disapprove of the way Trump is doing his job, according to a Utah Policy poll. What’s more, they are decisive about it. Of those 52%, 46% “strongly” disapprove of the president’s job performance, with only 6% choosing the less impassioned option of being “somewhat” disapproving.

This is not a halfhearted rejection.

Let’s look at how religion fits into the equation. Utah’s polling average tells us a good deal about how Latter-day Saints vote, but it’s far from a perfect equivalency. With every year, Utah is a little bit less Mormon. More outsiders are moving into the state, drawn by its robust pre-pandemic economy and natural beauty. In 2018, about 6 in 10 Utahns were on the rolls as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though that includes many people who no longer attend.

So it’s possible that it’s just the non-Mormon residents of Utah who disapprove of the president and don’t plan to vote for him.

Possible, but not true, as it turns out.

According to the Utah Policy/KUTV poll, 4 in 10 Latter-day Saints in the state disapprove of Trump. This means he still has majority approval among Utah Mormons, but that his approval rating is much softer than it has been for previous GOP presidents.

There’s also a serious gender gap, showing Trump’s ongoing problems with women voters. Fully half of “very active” Latter-day Saint women in Utah (50%) disapprove of Trump, compared to just 34% of “very active” Mormon men.

And that’s just the “very active” church members. Among the smaller number who say they are “somewhat” active, Trump fares even worse among women. Nearly 6 in 10 of the “somewhat active” Mormon women disapprove of the job he’s doing. (The numbers for men are basically the same as for the “very active” group—33% instead of 34%.)

Among Mormon women, this shows an erosion of support over the course of this year, compared to how Trump used to poll. In a different study at the beginning of 2020, a national poll showed better numbers for Trump: Only 44% of Mormon women disapproved of him at that time. And last year, a Pew study indicated that 45% of women disapproved. In both of those studies, men’s disapproval was consistently polling around a third, the same as in the Utah Policy study.

Apparently, Trump is now in trouble with Mormon women, even orthodox ones. What we can take away from these studies is that his disapproval rating in that group used to be in the mid-40s, and now it’s in the 50s (the low 50s for “very active” women and the high 50s for “somewhat” active).

It’s unclear from the surveys what particular factor or factors may be driving this: the haphazard way the president is handling the coronavirus, the nation’s high unemployment rate, or perhaps his bombastic personality. Many people have commented on the president’s continual self-absorption, tendency to blame others, and tendency to hate-tweet.

He's known to exact vengeance for what he perceives as personal attacks. To the point for Latter-day Saints, in April Trump conspicuously omitted Utah Sen. Mitt Romney from the economic task force charged with reopening the country. All 52 other GOP senators were given an invitation. Trump said he did not invite Romney because he holds a grudge against him; Romney was the only Republican senator to vote in favor of removing the president from office after his impeachment.

“I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney,” the president said. “I don’t really want his advice.”

But given that Romney has a higher approval rating in Utah than the president does, some of that advice could come in handy.

Editor’s note The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.