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Could Utah become a blue state? Why expert Nate Silver says it already is

Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief of the data driven FiveThirtyEight, opened his speech at Thursday’s Domopalooza by saying he found Utah fascinating.
Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief of the data driven FiveThirtyEight, opened his speech at Thursday’s Domopalooza by saying he found Utah fascinating.
Courtesy Method Communications

Nate Silver, the editor-in-chief of the data-driven FiveThirtyEight, opened his speech at Thursday’s Domopalooza in Salt Lake City by saying he finds Utah fascinating because of its behavior in the 2016 presidential election.

Silver — who’s well-known in politics for accurately predicting political elections and giving President Donald Trump the best odds in the 2016 election — told an audience of Domo employees and techies that Utah amazed him because it had one of the biggest shifts in politics in 2016, leaning more toward Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton than Trump, who ran on the Republican Party ticket, during multiple stages in the election.

But Silver told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview that he’s not just fascinated by the Beehive State, but constantly surprised by it because it looks and breathes like a blue state, even though it’s traditionally red.

“In some ways, it increasingly has the markers of a blue state, meaning high education levels, big tech sector, young population. So you can kind of envision a world in eight years, 12 years, 16 years in which Utah behaves more like Colorado or something, right?” he said.

Silver said the shift between the 2012 and 2016 elections, when Utah went from voting overwhelmingly Republican (Romney won the state by a 48 percent margin) to being uneasy about Trump, showed him that the state’s voting habits may change.

“When you have a country that’s so polarized on the red and blue spectrum, I’m fascinated by anywhere that bucks that trend a little bit," he said.

Silver said the Mormon population also behaves “differently than any other population in the country.”

Silver also commented on independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin's run in Utah. McMullin ran on a conservative platform, and even led the state in some polls toward the end of summer last year.

In Oct. 2016, FiveThirtyEight wrote about McMullin and his chances to obtain the nomination. Despite the article, Silver said he wasn’t surprised McMullin didn’t win the state.

“It’s a momentum-driven thing,” he said. He called most third-party candidates “a bust.”

He said it was fascinating to see McMullin reach 15 percent in polls without national attention. But he speculated that Utahns might have changed their votes when they saw he had an actual chance to win.

“And he’s a weird case,” Silver said. “He couldn’t get over the top. Once he was a threat to win the state, voters did a gut check and said, we’re a Republican state and we’re not ready to make the switch.”

Silver also said Clinton didn’t have a tremendously great strategy when it came to McMullin. He said it would have been "potentially close" if Clinton had told her voters to pick McMullin over herself.