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Poll: Utah would vote for a Democrat for president over Trump

Published: Sunday, March 20 2016 12:15 a.m. MDT

Donald Trump, the front-runner in the GOP presidential race, speaks at the Infinity Event Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 18, 2016.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If Donald Trump becomes the Republican Party's nominee, Utahns would vote for a Democrat for president in November for the first time in more than 50 years, according to a new Deseret News/KSL poll.

"I believe Donald Trump could lose Utah. If you lose Utah as a Republican, there is no hope," said former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a top campaign adviser to the GOP's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney.

The poll found that may well be true. Utah voters said they would reject Trump, the GOP frontrunner, whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the Democratic candidate on the general election ballot.

While Clinton was only slightly ahead of Trump — 38 percent to 36 percent — Sanders, a self-declared Democratic socialist, holds a substantial lead — 48 percent to 37 percent over the billionaire businessman and reality TV star among likely Utah voters.

"Wow. Wow. That's surprising," said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. "Any matchup in which Democrats are competitive in the state of Utah is shocking."

Also surprising is the number of Utahns who said they wouldn't vote if Trump were on the ballot. Sixteen percent said they'd skip the election if Trump and Clinton were their ballot choices, while 9 percent said they wouldn't vote if it was a Trump-Sanders matchup.

Both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich would beat either Democratic candidate in Utah, the poll found. Sanders came closest against Cruz, with 39 percent of Utahns backing Sanders to 53 percent for Cruz.

The Democratic candidates fare even better against Trump among Utah's many unaffiliated voters. Clinton would win Utah by 17 points, the poll found, while Sanders would see a 36-point victory if the election were held today. The margin of error for unaffiliated voters is nearly 7 percent.

The poll was conducted for the Deseret News and KSL on March 8-15 by Dan Jones & Associates of 500 registered voters statewide. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent, so the Clinton-Trump results fall within that margin.

Utah hasn't voted for a Democratic candidate for president in a general election since then-President Lyndon Johnson was running against Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964.

But Karpowitz said Republicans better be paying attention to Trump's lack of support in a state long considered a GOP stronghold if they expect to reclaim the White House this year.

"I know it is early and these things can change," Karpowitz said. "But the fact that a Donald Trump matchup with either Clinton or Sanders is a competitive race is a canary in a coal mine for Republicans."

The BYU political science professor said the poll makes it clear that if the GOP nominates Trump, "they may have trouble, serious trouble, in reliably Republican states like Utah" let alone the rest of the country.

(Graphic below by Mary Archbold, Deseret News)

Utah's role

Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of "Meet the Press," said Republicans see Utah as a state that can help stop Trump from securing the party's nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

"That's what the game is now," Todd said. "Both Cruz and Kasich need to pick up as many delegates as they can, but more importantly, it's about denying Trump delegates."

Kasich told the Deseret News/KSL Editorial Board in an hour-long meeting Saturday before a campaign stop in St. George that he expects the nomination to be decided at the convention, where delegates will be looking for the most electable candidate.

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