The curious case of Utah.

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Independent Presidential Candidate, Evan McMullin. 

You may have seen this week’s polling in Utah which suggested that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were tied in the State, each with 26 percent support. For Clinton to be tied with Trump is what is usually considered a safely Republican state is strange in itself, but what is even stranger is that both major party candidates could muster only 26 percent support each, with third-party candidates being supported by the remaining Utahns.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin was found to have 22 percent support. Add to this that Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, is polling at around 14 percent, and Utah is perhaps becoming one of the more interesting states to watch in this Presidential election. This is odd for a state which was expected to be safely Republican. Indeed, the last time Utah didn’t vote Republican in a Presidential election was 1964.

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Recent polls have shown Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tied in Utah.

Why is Donald Trump yet to secure Utah?

There are several factors which have contributed towards Trump’s failure to secure Utah.

We can point to the recent release of more evidence of lewd behaviour by Trump, including the release last Friday of a tape of Trump’s 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood. However, the roots of Trump’s lack of support in Utah actually began much earlier than this.

Utahns never particularly warmed to Trump or Trumpism. In the Utah Republican Caucus Trump could only come third, receiving just 13.82 percent of the vote, and finishing behind Ohio Governor John Kasich and the winner, Texan Senator Ted Cruz. Generally, this has been attributed to the skepticism of Mormons (who comprise a large proportion of Utah’s population) towards Trump, with many Mormon’s being angered by Trump’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith whilst on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, it was still expected to be a state which the Republican nominee would be able to count on come the general election. But, this has perhaps been changed by Evan McMullin entrance into the race.

At the 2013 Values Voter Summit.
Ted Cruz won Utah’s Republican Caucus. 

McMullin is running as an independent, but is associated with the Republican Party. After ten years working for the CIA, he worked for Goldman Sachs, before becoming a senior advisor for the Republicans in the House of Representatives. McMullin was born is Utah and is a Morman. This has led to many Utah Republicans flocking to support him (as he is considered a ‘real’ Republican) ahead of the divisive Donald Trump.


Could McMullin win Utah?

The short answer here is, yes, he could. Despite extremely low name-recognition, McMullin is already polling at between 20–22 percent, and is therefore closing in on Trump and Clinton. With the release of these polls, his name recognition will have undoubtedly increased, which will help his candidacy.

But, whether McMullin can get over the line in Utah may depend on one person: fellow Mormon Mitt Romney. Romney’s popularity and influence in Utah cannot be overstated. In 2012, Romney won the Utah Republican Primary with an astonishing 93.1 percent of the vote, and he then won 72.62 percent of the Utah vote in the general election. In addition, Mitt Romney chose to endorse Ted Cruz in Utah’s 2016 Republican Caucus. Cruz subsequently won 69.46 percent of the vote.

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Mitt Romney is hugely popular and influential in Utah. 
McMullin has already benefited from Romney’s help, and is said to be using an email list cultivated by Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. But, if Romney were to endorse McMullin then this could allow him to win the state. Romney is someone who Utahns clearly listen to very closely, and if he is to suggest that they should vote McMullin over Trump, it is likely that many would listen.

Could McMullin become President?

Surely none of this speculation matters, right? I mean, McMullin has absolutely no chance of becoming President. For a start, he’s only on the ballot in eleven states, making it almost mathematically impossible for him to get the 270 electoral votes required to win in the electoral college. So this means he can never become President, right?

Wrong!

Whilst McMullin has no chance of an outright victory in the Presidential election, his winning Utah could be enough to prevent either of Clinton or Trump winning the 270 electoral votes required to win in the Electoral College. If the Electoral College is deadlocked, then the 12th amendment mandates how the election is decided. The top three candidates (that is, the three with the most electoral votes) are sent to the House of Representatives. Each State delegation in the House receives one vote, and casts it for their favoured candidate. The candidate with the most votes becomes President.

Given that the Republican Party controls thirty-three of the House’s state delegations, you would think that this would point to a Trump victory. However, Republicans have been deserting Trump in droves in the past week. In addition, who knows what the Republicans majority in the House will look like after 8 November. In this situation, the Republican Party in the House would likely be very divided. It may be that many Republicans choose to go for McMullin in order to negate the possibility of a Clinton victory. Whilst many Democrats may consider McMullin as a ‘lesser evil’ when compared to Trump, and so could support him. In any case, in the very unlikely event that the Electoral College is deadlocked, McMullin would have a pretty good chance of winning the Presidency. Likewise, the same could be said of Libertarian Gary Johnson if he is able to win either New Mexico or New Hampshire (although both of these states are looking pretty safe for Clinton at the moment).

Conclusion:

Evan McMullin is not going to become President. The likelihood of the Electoral College being deadlocked is very, very low.

However, his success in Utah could still have a key effect on the outcome of this election. Utah is a state that Trump must win if he is to have any chance of winning the Presidency.

Given that Trump is already struggling in such Republican strongholds as Arizona, he cannot afford to lose Utah.

As it stands, Clinton is going to win this election easily. When it comes to the popular vote, although Clinton will likely win, it probably won’t be by a huge margin. I would be surprised if the popular vote margin is that much more than the margin when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012.

However, it is the Electoral College which could make Clinton’s victory look huge. She looks set to carry a huge number of states, and if McMullin does win Utah, then this just takes yet another state away from Trump, making Clinton’s task even easier.

One thought on “The curious case of Utah.”

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