The only fitting way for the 2016 campaign to end, after all of the tumult and bizarreness that we’ve seen over the past 20 months, is for there to be some dramatic result on Election Day. An electoral college tie, maybe. Or a total blowout. Something interesting, anyway. It’s got to happen, right?
This, I suspect, is part of the reason that people have seized on a report from a Salt Lake City CBS affiliate about a new poll in the deep-red state of Utah. The surprising/exciting finding? Hillary Clinton has a 1-point lead in the state.
Imagine that! Utah going blue for the first time since 1964. Now that‘s the sort of thing that we’d expect to see in this bizarre, wacky year.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, a 1-point lead is, of course, in the margin of error of the poll. If the election were today and that poll were right on the money, Donald Trump could easily emerge the victor.
Assuming, that is, that the massive number of people who didn’t pick Trump or Clinton decide to split their votes between the two. The KUTV report indicates that Clinton gets 36 percent of support to 35 percent from Trump — leaving 29 percent of the electorate going somewhere else. This is actually quite similar to a SurveyUSA poll from June showing Clinton and Trump tied at 35 with Gary Johnson — whose campaign headquarters is in the state — pulling 13 percent. That leaves 17 percent of voters undecided.
Yes, there’s plenty of evidence that Utah’s heavily Mormon population doesn’t really like Trump. One bit of evidence is the fact that he got clobbered by Sen. Ted Cruz in Utah and Mormon areas of adjoining states in the primaries. Another is reporting, like this from BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, outlining frustrations with Trump in that community.
A Trump loss in the state, though, would require that a majority of those undecided voters who go to the polls break for Hillary Clinton. One can assume that the state’s Democratic minority is already lined up for Clinton, meaning that the heavy majority of those undecided voters are Republicans. (There are more than four Republicans for every Democrat in the state.) If Clinton and Trump are about tied now, most of those Republicans will need to cross party lines to back Clinton to hand her the state. That shouldn’t be the default assumption.
Johnson will get some of those votes, certainly. But he stepped in it a bit in an interview last week. “Under the guise of religious freedom, anybody can do anything,” he told the Washington Examiner. “Back to Mormonism. Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead?” This led to a “the candidate regrets his remarks” follow-up, but as noted by an expert the Salt Lake Tribune interviewed, this is not the sort of first impression that is likely to earn him many votes.
So what does Johnson get in that new poll that kicked this whole thing off? Well, we don’t know — because the KUTV report is the only mention of it online.
The Salt Lake Tribune doesn’t have a story about a new poll at its website. The Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah doesn’t have any mention of it either. In an email to The Washington Post, the Tribune’s Dan Harrie confirmed that there in fact wasn’t a new survey from the paper. He speculated that KUTV was simply picking up a convention post-mortem the paper ran over the weekend — though there’s no reference to a 36-35 result.
In short: Utah, like any state in any year, could break out of its long-standing voting pattern. There is no new post-convention poll suggesting that the race is close, though, and it’s not fair to assume that Clinton will convert a tie to a win once all of the state’s Republicans weigh in.
A lot of crazy stuff has happened over the past year. Granted. But that doesn’t mean that something this crazy is necessarily in the cards.