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Poll: Honesty and integrity top traits Utahns value

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns want a president who is trustworthy, loyal, courteous … Well, perhaps not a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, but certainly someone who embodies some of those attributes.

In a new Deseret News/KSL poll, Utah voters overwhelmingly identified honesty and integrity as the most important personal characteristics they look for in a presidential candidate. Acting with civility and respect, even toward rivals, was a distant second.

Voters also want a candidate who would restore America to values they believe it has lost and who lines up with them on issues they find most important, the poll shows. Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 500 registered voters statewide March 8-15. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.

Backers of the five Republicans and Democrats left in the race could argue that their guy or gal fits the bill. Utahns could feel the Bern, cruise with Ted, trumpet The Donald, hang with Hillary or kick it with Kasich.

But who wins voters' affection in November depends on which two candidates emerge from the scrum. A lot could change between now and then.

"I think people want honesty. I think people will want a temperament that's presidential. They'll want a president they can be proud of and won't embarrass them and keeps them safe," said former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt.

Interestingly, though Utahns place great importance on religion, they ranked having strong religious faith dead last among the traits they value in a presidential candidate, the poll showed. About 79 percent of Utahns claim a religious affiliation.

Leavitt said he's not surprised that people wouldn't choose faith as a defining quality because wrapped up in honesty and integrity is a "moral ethic that's informed by people underlying views of the world."

Leavitt, the former Health and Human Services secretary in the George W. Bush administration, has endorsed Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president.

BYU political science professor Mike Barber said most Utahns are turned off by the unprecedented level of "vulgarity" that Donald Trump has introduced into the campaign.

"It's outside the norms of American politics. It something completely different. To me that's a concern. I worry that it may become the new norm," he said.

Adds University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless, "There's nothing in our textbooks, nothing in our governmental history going back to 1789 that describes Donald Trump."

Leavitt said temperament is going to matter in this election.

"I think it hurt Marco Rubio. He went out of character. People saw that as disingenuous, and you cannot be disingenuous," he said.

The Florida senator unleashed a barrage of retaliatory barbs at Trump earlier this month, jabbing at his "small hands" and "spray tan." Rubio dropped out of the GOP race after losing his home state primary to Trump last week.

Restoring values

Utahns also are looking for a candidate who would restore the country to values it seems to have lost, improve the economy and reach across party lines to bring about change, according to the poll. The survey also shows the economy is the top issue for voters in the state, followed by national security and health care.

Least important to voters are two areas that have become battle cries for Utah's Republican-dominated Legislature and congressional delegation: taking on existing power structures in Washington, D.C., and decreasing the power of the federal government.

Chambless, who identifies himself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, sees a disconnect there between voters and GOP officeholders.

"You wonder if the Legislature is out of touch. You wonder if Congress is out of touch or not listening because the typical voter, historically and today, is concerned about economic matters," he said.

Something in common

Partisans might disagree on the person, but Utah voters want a candidate who aligns well with their own thinking on issues that matter most to them. They also like candidates who don't answer to special interests or wealthy donors.

Sandy resident Sheral Schowe said she was big fan of President Bill Clinton and of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"She believes in the things that I do. She supports the issues that I support, and I think she is the platform that I want to follow," she said, listing Clinton's positions on the environment, higher education and early childhood education.

Thirty-six percent of Democrats and 32 percent of Republicans agreed that political characteristics would sway them to support a candidate, followed by 30 percent of unaffiliated voters. Least important political characteristics include articulating big plans for change and political experience.

Unaffiliated voters

When looking at Utah voter sentiments based on party affiliation, the survey found unaffiliated voters much more likely to support a presidential candidate who does not answer to special interests or big money donors than partisan voters.

Thirty-eight percent of unaffiliated voters named it their top political characteristic, while 26 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Democrats agreed.

Pollster Dan Jones said it comes down to Utahns wanting someone they trust would act in their best interest and the best interest of the country.

"That’s why honesty and integrity is so important to voters," Jones said. "Voters believe a candidate with these traits won’t be beholden to political games or special interests, but will always do what they think is best for the common good."

In the end, the reasons voters choose a particular candidate is an "omelet" influenced by conversations over the fence, at the dinner table and in the halls at church just a few days before the election, Leavitt said.

The authenticity of candidates, he said, ultimately comes through, sometimes at the beginning of a race, sometimes at the end.

"This is a campaign that Trump has turned into a campaign about attitude," Leavitt said. "As time goes on, attitude wears out. Aptitude gains momentum."


Twitter: dennisromboy