What Utah’s Presidential Vote Can Tell Us
As election results are tallied in Utah, the outcome is likely to be a predictable win for President Trump, but how the state votes in the presidential election can still tell us a lot about how voters are feeling. Quin Monson, a political scientist at Brigham Young University and a partner at the data firm Y2 Analytics, explained what to expect as results come in.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: First off, let’s look back a little. In 2016, Utah had a third-party candidate — Evan McMullin. That split the vote in Utah, and while the state still went for Donald Trump, he did not win a majority. What does that split mean for 2020?
Quin Monson: It means that there's a bunch of voters in Utah that are mostly Republican that didn't vote for the Republican candidate in 2016. I think it means that Donald Trump has to try pretty hard to get them to come back to the Republican side, and so far his success there is mixed. The data we have show that about half of those McMullin voters from 2016 have gone back to the Republican candidate — have gone back to Trump.
The other half appear to be going to Joe Biden. The Democrats for their efforts have formed a Latter-day Saints for Biden group — have made a little bit out of Joe Biden’s religiosity. He’s a practicing Catholic and has been his entire life. There’s a little bit of an opening for Biden to make inroads for that reason. He has been seen of these voters that are being targeted as somebody that is not as scary to them as other Democrats have been in the past.
CB: 2020 is not 2016 for a lot of reasons, one of them being the pandemic. How is that affecting how Utahns are thinking about this presidential election and how they vote?
QM: I think Utah is not unique at the moment. Along with many other places, we're experiencing a huge uptick in COVID cases, and it's putting a strain on our health care system. And I think it's top of mind for a lot of voters in terms of how they think about the presidential race. I think absent a pandemic — or if the national-level response and response from the White House was stronger and more successful — then I think it would affect things positively for President Trump and he'd be doing better than he's doing at the moment.
CB: All indicators point to record high turnout in Utah this year. How could that impact results?
QM: I don't know if we're gonna see anything dramatically different other than that higher turnout across the board. I haven't seen anything to indicate that Democrats are going to vote at a much higher rate than Republicans, for example, or that women over men or the young people are going to finally turn out in higher proportions than they have in the past. Every indication seems to be that our vote by mail system in Utah has helped our turnout to go up, and that's something that will happen more or less across the board.
CB: So you're not expecting any late in the game surprises?
QM: I don't think so. I think that everyone expects that 4th Congressional District race to be very close, and in every other case the surprise is going to be by how much does the Republican candidate win?
I expect Donald Trump to win in Utah. But the question is by how much and how high will his vote percentage go? It will be pretty unprecedented for recent history if he doesn't get above 55%. A Republican candidate for president running in the state of Utah –– especially an incumbent –– should easily surpass 60% of the vote in this state and perhaps even get 65%, as we've seen passed presidential candidates do that on the Republican ticket.
Donald Trump is not going to get the 60%, very likely, and could be held even lower than that. And in the polling we [at Y2 Analytics] released over the weekend, he's even lower than 55%. And so if he's held down at 52 or 53% and Joe Biden breaks above 40% and gets close to 45%, even though the outcome is not shocking to anyone, those numbers are pretty surprising for Utah.