SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump may be trailing former Vice President Joe Biden nationally, but he’s holding onto his lead in Utah over the Democratic challenger, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll.
The survey also shows a majority of the state’s voters like the job he’s doing, including his handling of the pandemic.
Half of the registered voters polled for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics said they would vote for Trump if the November election were held today, compared to 31% who would go with Biden. Only 11% said they are unsure who they’d choose.
At the same time, 55% approve of the president’s job performance, while 42% disapprove. When it comes to Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Utahns were slightly less supportive, with 52% expressing approval and 45% disapproval.
The statewide poll was conducted July 27-Aug. 1 of 1,000 registered Utah voters by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. It comes as Trump lags behind Biden, 42.7% to 49.1% in the Real Clear Politics average of top national polls.
“The reality is, Utahns are not unsure of how they feel about President Trump,” Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry said, pointing out the president has been able to maintain a core of support since the beginning of the year, with his approval ratings hitting a high of 57% in March and April before dipping to a low of 52% in May.
Still, Perry said, those numbers shouldn’t be seen as set in stone.
“Things may change. There are so many uncertainties. President Trump should not take that base for granted,” he said, adding that Trump’s showing, while stable, should be stronger given Utah’s status as one of the most Republican states in the nation.
“You would expect a Republican president to be polling better,” Perry said.
Utah has not voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but Trump finished a distant third in the state’s 2016 GOP caucus and ended up with just over 45% of the vote in the state four years ago, his lowest margin of victory in any of the states he won.
Longtime Utah Trump supporter Don Peay said he expects Trump to do much better in the state this November and called getting the support of 50% of voters in the poll “amazing” given all the unrest currently in the country, centered around police brutality against Blacks.
“The commonsense people are looking at the absolute stupidity of the Democratic Party, with destruction of property, trampling freedom, burning down cities, crime,” Peay said, describing Trump as a “rough and tumble guy” and Biden as “hiding out in a basement somewhere with a mask on.”
Instead of protests, he said the president is focused on the pandemic, “on the frontlines fighting every single day to try to overcome one of the hardest things in the history of our lifetime and he’s winning. The people see that. The people of Utah are obviously smart, they’re common sense, they’re pragmatic.”
Scott Howell, a former Democratic leader in the Utah Senate, said the poll results mean Biden supporters like himself have work to do. But Howell said he’s hearing dissatisfaction even among Republicans about how Trump is dealing with the virus.
“It’s surprising to me,” Howell said of Trump’s lead in Utah, given Biden’s strength in national polling, as well as a number of swing states. “Coronavirus has realigned voters’ concerns and behavior countrywide and it’s interesting to me that same trend isn’t happening here in the state of Utah.”
Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney’s willingness to challenge the president on a range of issues “is opening a pathway” for Biden, Howell said, giving the former vice president “the opportunity to keep staying on the positive about the handling of the pandemic and what he would do versus what (the president) has done.”
Trump doesn’t do quite as well in the poll in the 4th Congressional District, where the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, faces a tough race against Republican Burgess Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News guest.
But Trump still beats Biden 45% to 35% among registered voters in the 4th District, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, according to the poll, which also found 51% of voters there approve of the president’s job performance compared to 47% who disapprove.
However, voters in the state’s most competitive congressional district are evenly split, 49%-49% over Trump’s efforts against the deadly virus, For the 4th District results, 800 registered voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Numbers from the same poll released earlier this week showed McAdams and Owens are tied, 35%-35%, among 4th District voters.
Perry said Trump’s standing in the district could make the difference in a race likely to be decided by independent and moderate voters, enough of whom went for McAdams in 2018 over two-term Republican Rep. Mia Love to give him a victory of less than 700 votes.
“Burgess Owens is going to have to do more than just align himself with President Trump to be successful in that district,” the Hinckley Institute director said. “The positive point for Congressman McAdams is he is in a district where it’s not just going to fall along political lines.”
Peay, who helped bring the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to Utah last month to raise more than $100,000 for Owens, said Love “made a terrible mistake” by rejecting Trump’s campaign help two years ago in her race against the then-Salt Lake County mayor.
Even before her race was called, Love, now a CNN contributor, was mocked by Trump at a news conference after the election where he called out unsuccessful midterm Republican candidates who’d turned down his offers of assistance.
“But Mia Love gave me no love,” the president said. “She lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”
However, don’t look for Trump Sr. to make a stop in Utah for Owens, Peay said.
“He doesn’t need to come. Burgess is going to run a strong race and his message resonates,” he said, adding that he expects Owens to align his “strong views” with voters. “I think the president is going to be focused on some other states and doesn’t need to come to Utah.”
Owens’ campaign spokesman, Jesse Ranney, said there’s been “no negative feedback” about Trump’s backing.
“Burgess is running his own campaign,” Ranney said. “I don’t think it’s had much of an impact. Burgess is honest to his core. He’s not going to shy away from what he believes or who he supports. Poll numbers aren’t going to change his opinion.”
Howell said he believes the 4th District could go for Biden, as voters see what he does in the Democratic candidate. “I know what he stands for. I know his moral character. I know his moral compass and it is not the same as the president’s today,” he said.
A Biden victory in the 4th District would be a boost to McAdams, who is relying on the same independent and moderate Republican voters who could help shift Utah from reliably Republican red to swing state purple in November.
McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, downplayed the poll results.
“Ben is focused on the next round of health and economic relief for Utah families and small businesses,” Roberts said. “Political polls aren’t top of mind when people are worried about their kids’ schooling, virus protection and getting back to work.”