SALT LAKE CITY — More than half of Utahns still approve of the job President Donald Trump is doing, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted as nationwide protests against police brutality began in the wake of the death of a black man in Minnesota.
The poll found that 52% of Utahns like what they’re seeing from the Republican in the White House, while 46% disapprove of the president’s job performance. Just 2% said they weren’t sure how they feel. Trump’s job approval in Utah had reached as high as 57% in March and April.
But among a smaller group of likely Republican voters in Utah’s June 30 state primary, the president’s job approval rating jumps to 81%, with just 18% disapproval and only 1% uncertain. Trump easily won Utah’s March 3 presidential primary with nearly 88% of the GOP vote.
The poll was conducted by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, starting on May 25, the day George Floyd died as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, and ending Sunday, the day after a Salt Lake City protest turned violent.
Rasmussen said he believes it’s too soon to say how Utahns will view the president’s response.
“It’s pretty unsettled out there right now. So I think maybe you captured a little bit of it,” he said, comparing today’s turmoil to the 1960s when President Richard Nixon declared himself a law-and-order president amid anti-war protests and race riots, just as Trump did Monday when he threatened to deploy U.S. troops to quell unrest.
“The parallels are a little bit uncomfortable and very, very unpredictable,” Rasmussen said. At this point, he said the slight decline in the president’s job approval in Utah is likely related more to how he’s handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry said Utahns have been busy sorting out their own feelings toward the situation, especially after Saturday’s protest in downtown Salt Lake City where two cars were burned and both public and private property was vandalized.
“There will be Utahns who disapprove of the president’s actions but mostly they’re going to be focused on how our local leaders have approached these protests,” Perry said. “Utahns over the last couple of days have had a chance to look at their own thoughts and feelings about the protests.”
He said Utahns have come to the conclusion they want “compassion. They’ve been wanting people to be thoughtful about their approach, and this to be one of the opportunities where we embrace each other. ... It’s a much more supportive approach.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t care about law and order, Perry said, but “law and order and thoughtfulness can exist together.” Trump’s tone “is proving to not be what is going to win over Utahns,” he said, because what’s coming from Washington, D.C., “is not the approach that’s being taken right now in the state of Utah.”
Longtime Utah Trump supporter Don Peay said he believes Trump’s approval ratings will go up in Utah as a result of his tough talk.
“Of all places, Utah is one that understands law and order and the proper way to solve discrimination,” Peay said. “It is not through violence, destroying private and public property. And especially destroying the businesses of minority business owners who have worked their entire lives.”
He said the Trump campaign helped to raise money to rebuild a small business in Minnesota, labeling that “action. Not talk.” Peay said that “Trump and all of us made it abundantly clear, the death of Mr. Floyd should have never happened and justice will be served.”
The majority of Utahns “who take a moment to see beyond the media headlines will realize and appreciate Trump’s bold stand on law and order,” Peay said, especially since he believes “it didn’t affect Utah that much directly, though everyone I talk to hurts for our country to heal.”
Scott Howell, a former state Senate minority leader and a key Utah supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said Utahns don’t like what they’re seeing from Trump and his job approval will continue to fall in the state.
“He’s his own worst enemy,” Howell said of Trump, citing the president’s posing for a photograph in front of a historic church near the White House that had been vandalized while holding a Bible, after authorities cleared peaceful protesters from an adjacent park using tear gas, flash-bang explosions and officers on horseback.
“We’re a pretty compassionate state. We are,” Howell said, calling Trump’s actions disingenuous and an affront to many people of faith, particularly minorities. “I think it was a photo op. The prop was the Bible. You just had to watch it.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not running for reelection after more than a decade in office, also fared well in the poll. Among all voters, 59% said they approved of the job Herbert is doing, while 28% disapprove and 13% aren’t sure. But among likely GOP primary voters, the governor’s approval ratings climb to 80%.
Rasmussen said typically people “generally feel a little better about things closer to home.” But he said Utah’s governor, too, could see his job approval rating go up or down as a result of how he’s handled the protests in the state.
The larger poll sample of 1,000 Utah registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, while the smaller sample of 494 likely primary voters in the state has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.