Engaged in a fierce battle in the U.S. Senate race in Utah, a new poll shows Republican Sen. Mike Lee and independent challenger Evan McMullin neck and neck with a little over six weeks to Election Day.
The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey found 36% of Utahns would vote for Lee and 34% for McMullin if the election were held today. Another 16% don’t know who they would vote for, while 13% would mark the ballot, which includes two third-party candidates, for someone else.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 815 registered Utah voters for the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute from Sept. 3-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.43 percentage points.
The poll 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 96% 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 37% saying they would vote for Lee, 34% for McMullin and 16% undecided. The margin of error for that group is plus or minus 3.49 percentage points.
Among those who say they definitely will vote, 40% would pick Lee, while 35% would go for McMullin.
The Lee-McMullin matchup is the closest statewide election Utah has seen in decades.
“Mike Lee continues to be in the driver’s seat, but the most interesting aspect of this poll is who the undecided voters are — moderates and liberals. Mike Lee needs some of the moderates and Evan McMullin needs all the moderates and liberals he can convince, but those groups are in a quandary,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
According to the poll, those who identified themselves as “very liberal” and “moderate” represent the highest percentages of undecided voters.
Perry said liberals are trying to reconcile the fact that they don’t have a candidate with proven Democratic positions with their desire to remove Lee. Moderates, he said, are trying to decide if they want to keep a well-known but not uniformly popular conservative, or cast a vote for an unaffiliated candidate who is still establishing his policy positions.
“Neither candidate can take those voters for granted and they are clearly watching and weighing,” Perry said.
Lee and McMullin have stepped up their television and social media ads as the contest has become more heated in recent weeks. It is shaping up as Lee’s most expensive race since being elected in 2010. He has raised $7.9 million and spent $5.8 million, according to OpenSecrets.com. McMullin has raised $3.2 million and spent $1.9 million.
In the new poll, McMullin almost closed the 5-point gap Lee has held since the last Deseret News/Hinckley Institute survey in July, though the number of those critical and all-important undecided voters doubled in the new poll.
“Evan McMullin can win this race. Sen. Lee is in serious trouble — there isn’t another Senate incumbent in the country sitting at 40% or below,” said McMullin campaign spokeswoman Kelsey Koenen Witt.
“A majority of Utahns want to replace Mike Lee and this race is now one of the closest and most important in the nation. We are in a virtual tie and we’re 45 days out. Together Utah can stand up to the politics of division and extremism and chart a better course for our future.”
Lee campaign spokesman Matt Lusty said Lee is committed to earning the support of every voter and that’s a major reason polls consistently show him in the lead.
“Our internal numbers continue to show strong support as well. As Utahns see firsthand the disastrous impacts of the Biden agenda, they know they can count on Sen. Lee as a consistent champion of conservative values that will get our country back on track,” he said.
The latest survey found 40% of Utahns approve of the job the two-term Lee is doing in the Senate, down six points from July, and he remains under water as 45% disapprove of his performance.
McMullin is counting on voters who don’t like what Lee is doing in Washington to swing his way regardless of political persuasion. The Utah Democratic Party did not nominate a candidate in the Senate race but endorsed McMullin, maintaining that he has a better shot to oust Lee than one of their own. A Democrat has not won a U.S. Senate race in Utah since 1970.
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, more than half say they would vote for Lee. Just under half of those who identified as Democrats favor McMullin, while 40% of voters who don’t affiliate with either major party also would choose McMullin.
Nearly three-fourth of voters who consider themselves “very conservative” back Lee, while more than half of those who say they are “moderate” or “liberal” support McMullin.
The new survey also found Lee has higher support among men, while McMullin has more support among women. Voters ages 40 and under favor McMullin, while voters over that age prefer Lee.
Other polling conducted in the Lee-McMullin race varies greatly.
A Lighthouse Research & Development survey of 500 Utah voters conducted for the Utah Debate Commission found Lee leading McMullin 48% to 37%, with 5% undecided. The independent commission conducts a poll to determine which candidates will qualify for its debate.
McMullin and Lee are scheduled to debate on Oct. 17 at Utah Valley University.
Polls conducted by the two candidates’ campaigns also yielded wildly differing results.
An August survey by WPA Intelligence for Lee’s team found the incumbent leading McMullin 50% to 32%, with 12% undecided and 6% choosing other candidates. WPA Intelligence, which numbers Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and GOP Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, among its clients, sampled 500 likely Utah voters on Aug. 4-5. The poll has a plus or minus 4.4% margin of error.
McMullin recently released a two-person poll conducted for his campaign by Impact Research showing him ahead of Lee 47% to 46%, with 7% undecided. The survey of 800 likely Utah voters was done Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Impact Research clients include President Joe Biden.