SALT LAKE CITY — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump remains the top choice of Utah voters with a slightly wider lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton in a new UtahPolicy.com poll released Monday.
But while the backing for those candidates hasn't moved much since a June poll for the online political publication, there was a substantial surge in support for Libertarian Gary Johnson.
"It indicates there are many voters in Utah who are dissatisfied with both major party candidates and are looking for alternatives," said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
Trump, the billionaire businessman, was at 37 percent in the new poll, and Clinton, the former secretary of state, at 25 percent. That's a 1-point gain for Trump, who was at 36 percent in June, and a 2-point drop for Clinton, who was at 27 percent.
But Johnson leapt from 10 percent in June to 16 percent in the new poll, conducted July 18-Aug. 4 by Dan Jones & Associates of 858 likely Utah voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.34 percent.
Utah voters rejected Trump and Clinton in the March presidential preference caucus votes. Republicans gave Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a big win over both Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Trump, while Democrats did the same for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The state is being seen nationally as no longer a lock for the GOP, with Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of "Meet the Press," declaring Utah "the great swing state" last month.
Karpowitz said Trump's numbers are particularly telling in a state so reliably Republican that voters have not elected a Democrat for president since choosing Lyndon Johnson over his GOP challenger, Barry Goldwater, in 1964.
"If the Republican candidate can't get above 40 percent at this point, that says many Utahns have deep reservations," the political science professor said. Still, Karpowitz said that doesn't mean Trump won't carry Utah in November.
The bigger question may end up being who comes in second place. In 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot came in second in Utah's presidential election, beating soon-to-be President Bill Clinton.
"Utahns rightly or wrongly seem to have made some judgements about Hillary Clinton," Karpowitz said, based in part on her husband's administration, making it harder for her to win over GOP voters unhappy with Trump.
Pollster Dan Jones said he was surprised Trump's popularity didn't fall in the new poll.
Some Utah GOP voters, Jones said, seem to be "still waiting to see if Trump can get back in line and start getting support from top Republicans" after his feud with the family of a fallen Muslim solider and other recent missteps.
They also have concerns about expected appointments the next president will make to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones said, so if Trump can tell them what they want to hear on the issues, "they'll overlook a lot of what's been done."
Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, campaigned in Salt Lake City on Saturday and attracted nearly 2,000 students and others to a rally at the University of Utah, where he was billed as the "likable" alternative in November.
Deb Henry, a Sanders supporter, spoke at the Libertarian rally about the need to stay engaged in the political process despite feeling left out.
"Let's be allies," Henry said to cheers. "We have more in common than we realize."
The poll found that the increased support for Johnson is largely coming from independent voters rather than Democrats or Republicans, with 28 percent backing Johnson compared with 20 percent for Trump.
Johnson campaign spokesman Joe Hunter said the Libertarian candidate was "energized by the great reception" he and running mate William Weld received in Utah during the campaign stop and will return to the state.
"Utah is clearly a key state for us, and as more and more Utahns get to know Gov. Johnson, we are finding a great deal of support," Hunter said. "He is a fellow Westerner, he understands the challenges and opportunities Utah faces."
If Johnson can hit at least 15 percent in a number of national polls, he will qualify to participate in the presidential debates in September and October. The last time a third-party candidate was able to join the debates was Perot in 1992.
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