Just 8 percentage points separate first and third place in the Republican race for governor according to a new survey of likely primary voters.
The UtahPolicy.com/KUTV 2News survey conducted by Y2 Analytics finds Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in the lead with 34 percent support among likely Republican voters. Former governor Jon Huntsman Jr. gets 30 percent, while former House Speaker Greg Hughes has 26 percent support. Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright is lagging behind with 10 percent.
Those numbers suggest that the race is essentially a toss-up heading into the final week of campaigning. With a 3.9 percent margin of error, Cox, Huntsman and Hughes all have a reasonable chance of emerging with the GOP nomination. The winner of the primary will be the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in November.
But it won’t be just longtime Republican voters deciding the GOP nomination. A concerted effort to get independent voters and even some Democrats to register and vote as Republicans looks like it may be bearing some fruit. Media reports show the Utah GOP has gained 103,000 voters since last year, with more than 40,000 new registered voters in the last month alone.
Huntsman’s campaign has been appealing to independent voters who usually cast a ballot for Republicans in general elections to participate in the GOP primary so they can have a say in the nomination.
Among independent voters who are likely to change their registration to Repulican, our survey finds those voters break toward Huntsman by a more than 2-1 margin over Cox. 58% of that group say they would back Huntsman, 26 percent pick Cox and just 12 percent say they support Hughes. 4 percent said they would vote for Wright.
If a significant number of those independents do take the step to register and vote, that big margin of support for Huntsman could prove decisive.
As we’ve seen in previous polls, Hughes gets strong support from conservatives, but has difficulty with voters more toward the middle of the political spectrum. That tracks with Hughes’ campaign strategy, tying himself to President Donald Trump and appealing to issues near and dear to conservative voters like personal freedom and preserving the constitution.
Strongly conservative voters prefer Hughes over Cox 49-27 percent. Huntsman and Wright each get 12 percent.
44 percent of moderately conservative Republicans say Cox is their preferred candidate. 26 percent of this group pick Huntsman and 22 percent say Hughes. 8 percent support Wright.
A majority of moderate voters, 52 percent, say they prefer Huntsman. 33 percent of this group say they would vote for Cox. Just 9 percent like Hughes and 6 percent say Wright.
62 percent of moderately liberal Republicans and 65 percent of strongly liberal GOP voters throw their support behind Huntsman.
The survey was conducted mostly prior to the KUTV 2News primetime debate featuring the four gubernatorial candidates.
Among Republican voters, men are almost evenly divided between Cox and Hughes, while Cox has a larger lead among women voters. 32 percent of Republican men support Cox, while 31 percent say they support Hughes. Huntsman gets 26 percent while Wright was at 11 percent. 38 percent of Republican women say they would back Cox, 33 percent support Huntsman. Hughes is at 22 percent and Wright was at 8 percent support.
Among independent voters who are inclined to vote in the June primary, Huntsman is the clear choice for both men and women. 55 percent of the men in this group and 65 percent of women say they will cast a ballot for Huntsman.
The survey from Y2 Analytics was conducted June 9-17, 2020 among 640 likely Republican primary voters with a margin of error +/- 3.9 percent.
[Editor’s note: Y2 Analytics has conducted polling for the Cox campaign. However, there is a strict firewall between the two operations. The Y2 staffers who are working for the Cox campaign are not involved in our polling.]