Jonathan Johnson has a lot of ground to make up in his quest to unseat Gov. Gary Herbert while the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates are struggling for name recognition.
A new UtahPolicy.com survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates finds in a hypothetical primary election matchup, Herbert leads Johnson 58-20%. 22% say they’re undecided.
As it stands, Johnson cannot eliminate Herbert at the convention. Herbert took the signature route to get on the primary ballot while Johnson is using the caucus/convention path only. The clear danger for Johnson is he needs to get at least 40% of the delegate vote at the convention to force a primary against Herbert. If Herbert gets above 60%, he will end Johnson’s hopes by automatically capturing the nomination.
The Utah GOP has been challenging the signature route in court but has recently suffered some setbacks in that quest with two straight rulings against the party. Had the GOP succeeded, they may have been able to deny ballot access to candidates who used the signature route. A final legal challenge by the party is still pending.
If there is a primary on the GOP side, only registered Republicans can vote. Among that group, the gap between Herbert and Johnson is even more pronounced. 72% said they support Herbert with only 13% picking Johnson. That number includes 46% who say they would “definitely” vote for Herbert while just 6% stated that they were definitely backing Johnson. 15% said they were undecided.
That means, among Republicans, Johnson would need to win every undecided voter and pick off at least 23% of those who prefer Herbert. Herbert has a +60 margin over Johnson among Republicans. Johnson needs a 60-point swing, plus one extra vote to reach a 50-plus-one majority. Clearly there’s not a lot of room for Johnson to make up ground in a primary election, and he’s got less than 80 days to swing the pendulum in his direction.
Not surprisingly, Herbert’s campaign hailed the results.
“Gov. Herbert has a strong record as a conservative who gets things done and the polls show a significant majority of Republican voters want him to continue to serve,” said campaign spokesperson Marty Carpenter. “For the next two weeks, the focus is on earning the support of the delegates. Hopefully their support aligns with the people they will represent at the state convention.”
Meanwhile, the Johnson campaign attempted to downplay the numbers in an email statement.
“Jonathan has been spending time and resources meeting with delegates, not on billboards focused on the general public. His message resonates well with delegates, and he expects to win at the April 23 state convention.”
Drilling down further into the numbers, it’s not clear where Johnson’s base of support comes from. Herbert wins nearly every demographic by a sizeable margin:
Men favor Herbert 60-22%
Women pick Herbert 57-17%
“Very conservative” Utahns back Herbert 70-18%
Herbert wins among “somewhat conservative” Utahns 74-13%
Moderates favor Herbert 58-20%
Herbert wins among Tea Party members 58-28% while those who do not affiliate with the Tea Party are behind Herbert 58-18%.
Weirdly, the race is a close one among left-leaning Utahns. Those who identify as “somewhat liberal” are divided between the two Republicans, with Herbert winning 33% and Johnson pulling in 27%. Those who say they are “very liberal” actually favor Johnson 37-20%. Perhaps those on the left see Johnson winning the nomination as their best chance to get a Democrat elected in November.
Speaking of the Democratic race, it’s clear both candidates, Mike Weinholtz and Vaughn Cook, are struggling mightily with name recognition. In a potential primary contest, nearly 7 in 10 Utahns said they had no idea who either man was.
Weinholtz, who is running the flashier campaign with billboards and a fairly robust social media presence, is struggling to get above 10% support. Only 4% said they would “definitely” vote for Weinholtz while 9% replied they would “probably” vote for him. Cook’s 21% support includes 18% who said they would “probably” vote for him in the primary. However, some of that support may be a hangover from the 2012 election, when the Democratic nominee was Peter Cooke, who lost to Herbert by 41 points.
Both Weinholtz and Cook say they’re not surprised that so many voters are undecided.
“I’ve only been in the race since February,” said Weinholtz. “We’ve been spending time building out our teams and focusing on delegates. I expect we would start a greater public outreach after the convention.”
Cook’s campaign echoed that sentiment.
“It’s not surprising that so many are still undecided,” said the Cook campaign in an email statement provided to UtahPolicy.com. “Many state delegates are yet to be elected, and we have two busy weeks before the State Convention.”
It’s a bit harder to parse the numbers in the Democratic race, since the Democratic primary is open to all registered voters, whereas the Republican primary is for registered Republicans only. However, among Democrats in Utah, Weinholtz leads Cook by a 34-25% margin. Independents favor Cook 28-12%.
Some other interesting tidbits from the numbers:
Millenial voters, those between the age of 18-24, prefer Cook by a 33-10% margin.
“Very liberal” Utahns are nearly evenly split, with 27% picking Weinholtz and 25% backing Cook. 48% are undecided.
“Somewhat liberal” Utahns back Cook over Weinholtz 31-22%. 47% of that group is undecided.
Moderates like Cook 27-14%.
The Dan Jones & Associates survey was conducted March 23-April 5, 2016 among 600 adult Utahns. It has a margin of error +/- 4%.