Utahns like Evan McMullin a little more than Sen. Mike Lee, but the independent challenger has a lot of voters who don’t seem to know him and he still slightly trails the Republican incumbent in the heated U.S. Senate race.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found 41% of Utahns would vote for Lee and 37% would vote for McMullin if the election were held today. Independent American candidate Tommy Williams picked up 2% and Libertarian James Arthur Hansen got 1%. Another 12% don’t know who they would vote for, while 5% would mark the ballot for someone else.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 801 registered Utah voters for the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute from Oct. 3-6. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
The survey also asked respondents to rank how likely they are to vote in the Nov. 8 midterm election, with 1 being definitely will vote and 5 being definitely will not vote. It found 97% of those surveyed say they are likely to vote, including 83% who say they will definitely vote.
The numbers stay virtually the same among likely voters, with 42% saying they would vote for Lee and 37% for McMullin. Still, 12% of likely voters don’t know who they would choose, and 5% would pick someone other than the four candidates on the ballot. The margin of error for that group numbering 773 respondents is plus or minus 3.52 percentage points.
The race tightens among those who say they definitely will vote, with 42% saying they would pick Lee and 40% that would pick McMullin. Among those 663 respondents, 10% didn’t know and 4% chose other. The margin of error for that sample is plus or minus 3.81 percentage points.
According to the poll, Utahns who identified themselves as moderates represent the highest percentages of undecided voters.
“The Utah Senate race will be won on the frontlines by the candidate who can capture the ever-important base of moderate voters,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. “Conservatives and liberals have largely made up their minds, now we’re going to see how the silent, moderate majority exerts their power. That is the ground both candidates want.”
Both McMullin and Lee ticked upward in the new survey as the amount of undecided voters dropped from the September survey. The results overall have remained consistently close the past three months.
Super PACs have blistered the airwaves and social media with attack ads over the past couple weeks, pouring millions of dollars into what has become one of most unique races in the country. McMullin sued Club for Growth Action over one of the ads. The Washington-based PAC says the lawsuit is an attempt to “censor” it and Utah media.
While Lee has a slight edge in the head-to-head matchup, voters find McMullin a little more appealing, though more than a quarter don’t have an opinion about him with a month to go until Election Day. County clerks will start sending out ballots Oct. 18.
The survey found 42% have a favorable opinion of McMullin, while 30% have an unfavorable opinion of him.
For Lee, 40% have a favorable opinion of the two-term senator, but 47% have unfavorable opinion of him. His favorability rating closely mirrors his job approval rating. A Deseret News/Hinckley survey in September found 40% of Utahns approve of the job the two-term senator is doing in Washington, down six points from July, and was under water as 45% disapprove of his performance.
“Just like all other incumbents, Lee is grappling with the advantages and disadvantages of having a very public record. A challenger doesn’t often have that record for people to go after,” Perry said.
Though, unlike Lee, McMullin’s favorability rating isn’t underwater, 28% of voters have no opinion of him compared to 14% for the senator. While McMullin, a former Republican who ran an anti-Trump presidential campaign as an independent in 2016, has shown in his campaign messaging he is not Lee, the poll results indicate he hasn’t clearly defined who he is for Utahns.
Part of McMullin’s campaign is that he is not Lee, but for him to win the race, it has more than that, Perry said. It also turns on his ability to connect with voters on policies and approach to the job.
Lee, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, continues to enjoy solid support from his conservative GOP base.
Among those in the poll who identified themselves as Republicans, 60% say they would vote for Lee, compared to 26% for McMullin. At the same, 68% of Democrats in the survey would vote for McMullin, while only 2% for Lee.
Unaffiliated voters — those who don’t belong to a political party — favor McMullin over Lee 40% to 30%, though 16% are undecided.
Voters who consider themselves “very” or “somewhat” conservative overwhelmingly favor Lee, while the same is true for McMullin among “very” and “somewhat” liberal Utahns. McMullin owns a wide margin over Lee among “moderate” voters, 42% to 17%, but a quarter of them are undecided.
The new survey also found Lee has higher support among men, while McMullin has more support among women. Voters ages 24 and under prefer McMullin, while voters over age 56 go with Lee. Lee has a slight among those in between.
Among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who identified themselves in the poll as “very active,” Lee leads McMullin 57% to 29%. For those who identified themselves as “somewhat/not active Latter-day Saints, McMullin was the choice over Lee 39% to 37%.