Trump still favored to carry Utah in November, but ratings shift toward Democrats

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Are President Trump’s sagging poll numbers threatening the GOP’s grip on Utah? Maybe not, but the days of Utah being a rock-solid Republican stronghold could be threatened in the age of Trump. 

Two political forecasters have moved Utah in their electoral college ratings from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.” So, now, instead of being a part of the reliably Republican group of states like Idaho, Wyoming and Alabama. Instead, Utah is now lumped in with Alaska, Montana and South Carolina.

This doesn’t mean Utah is a swing state by any stretch of the imagination, or that the presidential race in Utah will even be close. But, it does mean that Trump’s support is flagging significantly in other states less-Republican than Utah, and that diminished standing is filtering down to the Beehive State.

Don’t expect the Biden campaign to start advertising in Utah. The state is reliably out of reach for a Democrat. But, it would not be surprising at all to see the Trump campaign do something shore up their support here if things continue on the same trajectory. 

Trump’s team should not have to keep their eye on Utah with less than four months to go until the election, but they are likely sneaking a few furtive glances now and again.

Last week, Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections moved Utah from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican,” which is a significant downgrade given Utah’s historical status as a GOP fortress. Earlier this year, the Cook Political Report did the same.

We all know that Trump carried Utah in the 2016 election with a plurality, only grabbing 45.5 percent of the vote. His approval ratings have stayed around the same level ever since, only crossing 50 percent approval one time since the election.

Recently, a survey from Y2 Analytics suggested the race was close to a toss-up with Trump leading Biden by just 3 points, 44-41 percent. But, Y2 revised those results by weighting for educational achievement, which saw Trump’s lead increase to between six and ten points. Trump carried Utah by fewer than 18 points in 2016. For comparison, Mitt Romney carried Utah by more than 40 points, and John McCain won by nearly 30.

If you dig into the numbers a bit, you can see why Utah is less of a sure thing for Republicans this year. 

There is a massive 26 point gender gap opening up between Trump and Biden. Male voters support Trump over Biden by a 16 point margin, while women support Biden over Trump by 10 points. Nationally, the gender gap could be 34 points or higher, which would be an all-time record for a presidential election.

Trump’s support in Utah’s four congressional districts has remained static or dropped. 

  • In 2016, Trump won CD1 with 49.7 percent. Currently, his support for re-election in UT01 sits at 48 percent.
  • Trump carried CD2 in 2016 by 14 points. Today, polling shows him trailing Biden there by 4 points, which is a 20 point swing away from Trump.
  • CD3 has not moved much from four years ago. In 2016, Trump carried the district with 47.2 percent. Now, he has 49 percent in UT03.
  • Trump’s worst performance in 2016 was in UT04, where he only pulled in 39.1 percent and won the district by a little more than 6 points. He currently is running behind Biden in the district by 5 points.

Experts say they would not be surprised if Biden were to carry UT04 in November, which would be the first time that a Democrat won a Utah congressional district in more than a generation. The last time that happened was 1964 when Lyndon Baines Johnson won the entire state.

It’s clear that Trump has not expanded his support beyond his base in Utah in the four years since the 2016 election. We can see that in his approval ratings. 

In our most recent poll, President Trump had a 48 percent job approval, 52 percent disapproved. While he has a meager +2 net approval rating, it’s hardly comforting for him to be below 50 percent approval a few months out from the election.

Broken down by county, we also see Trump’s approval treading water. The urbanized counties in Utah slightly disapprove of his job performance, while the rural counties slightly approve. His approval in the so-called “transitional counties” is much higher than anywhere else in the state.

20200720 QAPPR1 Urban Rural

It’s not useful to suggest that Utah could be a pickup for Biden in November. Trump is still on solid electoral ground in the state, but he’s also not seeing his situation improving much, if at all. If his support here begins to weaken in the next few months, it could be a sign that his re-election is in real trouble.