Donald Trump and Mitt Romney are a lot like oil and water. You can mix them together once in a while, but they always separate.
The way they go about politics tends to divide people as well. Some voters love Trump and despise Romney, and vice versa. They wear the same Republican Party label but clearly have a different view of what it means.
To that end, the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics asked Utahns — regardless of their personal political affiliation — which one of the two they most identify with.
The poll found 51% of Utah voters say Romney best represents their political and policy preferences, while 37% chose Trump. Another 12% picked neither.
The results flipped among survey respondents who identified themselves as Republicans, with 51% saying Trump best represents them compared to 42% for Romney. Only 8% of Republicans named someone else.
“People in Utah have used Donald Trump and Mitt Romney as measuring posts to determine what kind of Republican a person is. From this poll we see Utahns overall may prefer a Romney Republican, but Republicans clearly prefer the Trump approach,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
Unaffiliated voters — those who don’t belong to a political party — overwhelmingly identified more with Romney than Trump, according to the poll.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the survey of 808 Utah registered voters May 7-13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Trump lost the 2020 election but certainly hasn’t gone away. He continues to loom large in the Republican Party. Instead of calling the shots from the White House, he’s making his voice heard from Mar-a-Lago.
Romney has taken a centrist approach to the Senate where he has worked across party lines on major legislation, including the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last fall.
Truth be told, Romney voted for Trump policies more often than Utah’s conservative senior senator and staunch Trump ally Mike Lee, who sometimes seems to oppose legislation, even Republican or bipartisan legislation, just to make a point.
The survey results might provide a glimpse into how Utah voters lean in the 2022 primary and general elections as Republican candidates have either aligned or distanced themselves from the two polarizing politicians.
In 2016, then GOP vice president candidate Mike Pence had to tell Utah Republicans to “come home” and vote for Trump, Perry said. The poll, he said, shows those same Republicans now favor Trump over Romney, who won 73% of Utahns’ support in the 2012 presidential election.
Utahns have a tangled relationship with Trump and Romney.
Trump won Utah in 2016 but with only about 45% of the vote. That shot up to 58% in 2020. In 2018, Utah GOP delegates, who are more conservative than rank-and-file Republicans in the state, forced Romney into a primary election, which he easily won.
Asked which one best represents him, Eagle Mountain resident David Ferris replied, “That’s complicated.”
“A lot of it comes down to how much Trump doesn’t more than Romney does represent my political views,” he said.
Ferris voted for Romney in 2012, independent Evan McMullin in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. He said he considers himself a centrist, “which in Utah, I think, kind of puts me on the left side of things.”
Trump, he said, has a narrow world view and only seemed to only care about himself in the decisions he made.
“He kind of tries to get people whipped up into a frenzy over these really polarizing issues and he ended with this kind of scary mob mentality, and that’s not even accounting for the actual mob that stormed the Capitol,” Ferris said.
Romney, he said, cares about civil rights, which he believes is somewhat rare among Republicans.
“I feel like he’s going to vote for things that he feels like is right in that situation,” Ferris said, noting he wasn’t afraid to vote with Democrats to impeach Trump. “He’s putting his own career at risk to stand up for what he feels like is right. That speaks huge to me.”
David Root, who lives in Cache Valley, said he doesn’t like Trump or Romney but voted for both of them, Trump for president in 2020 but not 2016, and Romney for Senate in 2018.
A longtime Republican state delegate, Root said he doesn’t like Trump’s style or the way he trashes other people. But he’s aligned with him on many issues.
“I liked a lot of his policies. I liked that he was instituting policies that other Republicans seemed to be afraid of doing or afraid of even addressing, the border being one of them,” he said.
Root also liked Trump moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“He could make a decision and stick with it and not be too terribly concerned about all the hand-wringing that goes on in Washington, D.C., among the establishment. I think that was one of his strengths was that he was not steeped in the Washington milieu as so many politicians are,” he said.
Still, Root doesn’t want to see Trump run for president again in 2024.
“I feel like his time has come and gone,” he said. “I see him as the tragic hero.”
As for Romney, Root said he thought Romney represented his conservative values but that he just “talked a good game.”
“It appears to me that he’s just soft on a lot of the conservative issues that I hold near and dear,” he said.
Root said Romney’s reach across the aisle to Democrats is a red flag because it sounds to him like the senator is all too willing to join them. He said compromises always seem to favor the other side.
“Mitt has left me with the impression that he really has no foundational principles,” he said.
He called Romney’s two votes to remove Trump from office “petty” and a “personal vendetta” for Trump passing on him for secretary of state.
The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll found 82% of Utah voters who identified themselves as “very conservative” say Trump best represents their political and policy preferences. Somewhat conservative voters only slightly favored Trump. Moderate and liberal Utahns overwhelmingly prefer Romney.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who showed reluctance to support Trump in the past, were divided between Trump and Romney based on their activity level in the faith. Those in the survey who consider themselves “very active” said Romney best represents them, while those who say they are “somewhat or not active” chose Trump.
The survey also showed that 55% of women identify with Romney, compared to 32% with Trump.
“There has been a growing gender gap in politics, and this poll shows Trump still struggles with female voters, even in Utah,” Perry said.
For Kane County resident Caralee Woods the choice between Romney and Trump is easy.
“Neither one of those guys speaks for me,” said the “strong” Democrat. “There’s no one elected in Utah that represents my views. I am not represented by any elected official in this state at this time, and haven’t been for many, many years.”