Utah is one of the reddest states in the country, politically speaking. In 2012 Republican Mitt Romney won 75 percent of Utah’s presidential vote, to Democratic President Barack Obama’s 25 percent.
But if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination in 2016, Utah, shockingly, might be in play. The billionaire real estate magnate is very unpopular there and could well lose the Beehive State to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. A new Deseret News poll finds Trump trailing Clinton in Utah by two percentage points, and Sanders by 11.
This potential upset shows how a Trump candidacy could upend the recent partisan order of the American map. While his appeal to working class whites could make Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other Rust Belt states more competitive, his belligerence and anti-immigrant bluster might put some normally Republican-leaning states out of reach.
“I believe Donald Trump could lose Utah. If you lose Utah as a Republican, there is no hope,” former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a former advisor to Mr. Romney, told the Deseret News.
Utah’s likely anti-Trump attitude will be on full display this week because the state votes for presidential nominees on March 22 via Republican and Democratic caucuses.
Arizona is holding its primary the same day, and Trump is likely to win there. He’s almost certain to get crushed in Utah, though. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a 99 percent chance of winning the Utah caucuses, according to the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight, which mixes polls with demographic analysis and other factors to make its predictions.
It’s possible Utah is an outlier. It’s a heavily Mormon state, and Mormons are not Trump voters. Though overwhelmingly white, the religion clashes with Trump in many ways.
For one thing, the church has spent years backing “compassionate” immigration reform, notes Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, himself a Mormon and graduate of Brigham Young University. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have backed state initiatives to discourage deporting of law-abiding unauthorized immigrants.
The LDS church also has worked with Muslim leaders in America and is thus wary of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Mormons in general, many of who have served overseas on missions, are less wary of foreigners than Trump seems to be.
Then there’s the personal side. Many Mormons are highly educated – a non-Trump demographic. And Trump’s “blatant religious illiteracy, his penchant for onstage cursing, his habit of flinging crude insults at women, his less-than-virtuous personal life and widely chronicled marital failures – all of this is anathema to the wholesome, family-first lifestyle that Mormonism promotes,” writes Mr. Coppins.
Idaho is the nation’s second-most Mormon state, and Trump lost the Idaho primary on March 8 by 18 points.
But it might also be wrong to ascribe Trump’s Utah struggles to a particular denomination. The Deseret News poll found that Trump was no more popular among non-Mormons in the state than Mormons per se. The dividing line was religiosity – regular prayer and church attendance.
In this particular poll Trump was uniquely unpopular among voters who described themselves as “very active in religion.”
As poll wizard Philip Bump points out in The Washington Post, self-identified Mormons are the most likely religious group to attend services regularly, and the most likely to say they pray daily.
“What may be prompting the stiff resistance to Trump, then, isn’t just that Utah is home to a lot of Mormons – it’s that those Mormons are more religious and that religious voters are more likely to view Trump with hostility,” writes Mr. Bump.
The bottom line: Trump and Trumpism could indeed upend the US electoral map. But it’s pretty hard to predict with assurance exactly what that means.
Trump’s appeal to working class whites and tirades about trade and China might attract more voters in Michigan, say, than Romney’s boardroom Republicanism. But would that be enough to actually switch Michigan red? Trump would also likely mobilize minorities against him. And Michigan, by the way, has a large Muslim community in suburban Detroit.
Meanwhile, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado might tip toward the Democrats if Trump wins the GOP nomination. Yes, even Utah might be up for grabs.
And if 10 to 15 percent of Republicans stay home in November because they oppose Trump, what happens further down the ballot? Many anti-Trump GOP leaders have consoled themselves by saying that even if Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency, Republicans will maintain their tight grip on the House.
Unless they don’t. The Cook Political Report, which closely follows individual House races, recently made 10 ratings changes that favor Democrats.
“So many assumptions have been wrong this cycle that it’s difficult to be definitive about another: that the House majority won’t be in play in 2016,” wrote David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report on March 18.