SALT LAKE CITY - JULY 12: Lionel Trepanier (R) and Lucas Paul (2nd-R) walk past the Mormon Temple on the Main Street Plaza holding hands with other...
George Frey

Could Utah be a presidential battleground state?

Updated
Both political parties have certain states that they consider locks at the presidential level. Democrats, for example, have plenty of reasons to believe that there’s simply no way their party’s national ticket could lose in states like Hawaii and Vermont.
 
Republicans, meanwhile, have some of their own. There’s no way the GOP ticket will have to worry about states like Oklahoma and Utah, which are about as red as red states get.
 
But what if 2016 is such a weird year that some of these assumptions need a second look? The Washington Post reported yesterday:
No state voted more heavily for the GOP presidential nominee in 2012 than Utah. And in 2008, it was the third-most Republican state in the union.
 
A new poll shows that Donald Trump is tied with Hillary Clinton in Utah.
That’s not a typo. The latest poll from SurveyUSA for the Salt Lake Tribune, released yesterday, found Clinton and Trump tied in Utah at 35% each. Libertarian Gary Johnson is running a pretty strong third with 13% support.
 
It’s not too hard to understand the electoral dynamic here: there appears to be quite a few Utah Republicans who find Trump offensive, but don’t want to support a Democrat, which makes Johnson look quite appealing.
 
And while it’s obviously still early, let’s not forget that the Deseret News published a related poll a few months ago showing Clinton with a narrow lead over Trump in Utah. Soon after, Trump lost Utah’s GOP presidential caucuses – finishing a distant third with a woeful 14% of the vote.
 
As for why, exactly, Mormons, who make up more than 60% of Utah’s population, are so skeptical of Trump, McKay Coppins had a great piece on this in the New York Times yesterday:
Mormonism is a faith that holds up chastity as a virtue and condemns pornography as a soul-rotting vice; Mr. Trump is an unabashed adulterer who has posed for Playboy covers. Mormons draw inspiration from their ancestors’ modest frontier frugality; Mr. Trump travels the world in a tricked-out Boeing 757 with his name stamped conspicuously across the fuselage.
 
Many conservative Christians were willing to overlook these defects during the primaries because they liked what Mr. Trump had to say about issues like immigration. But Mormons are considerably more conflicted about his mad-as-hell message – and their ambivalence could cost the candidate in Western swing states.
The differences are as much about substance as style. As Coppins’ piece added, Trump’s proposed Muslim ban is deeply at odds with Mormons’ commitment to religious liberty, and the candidate’s anti-immigration attitudes offend nearly as much.
 
I don’t want to overstate matters; Utah has voted Republican in 15 of the last 16 presidential elections, and when push comes to shove, it’s likely to do so again this year. The GOP’s advantage is probably just too strong.
 
But Trump isn’t a normal candidate, and he’s uniquely offensive to many Utahans in ways that may yet make the state competitive. Might we see Hillary Clinton make a campaign swing or two through Salt Lake City? Don’t bet against it.
 
 
 

Polling and Utah

Could Utah be a presidential battleground state?

Updated