According to a new Deseret News/KSL poll, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee, the voters of Utah would opt for a Democratic candidate for the first time in over 50 years. Poll respondents said they would support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders over Trump, though Clinton was only two points ahead of Trump in the poll, falling within the margin of error (as opposed to the 11 points Sanders has over Trump). As many as 16 percent of respondents said they would skip the election altogether if Trump was the nominee. The survey also indicated that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz would defeat the Democratic candidate if they were nominated.
It's only one poll, but that didn't prevent it from shocking Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Said Karpowitz to the News, “I know it is early and these things can change. 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.”
Trump made news in heavily Mormon Utah on Friday by wondering aloud at a Salt Lake City rally whether former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was actually Mormon, though Trump would later suggest he was just implying that Romney wasn’t very smart, because “The Mormons are very smart people. I know many Mormons.” With Utah’s caucuses set for Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight’s current polling average has Cruz and Kasich way ahead of Trump, 52 and 28 percent, respectively, to Trump's 10 percent.
BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins notes that “while Mormons make up the most reliably Republican religious group in the country, they differ from the party’s base in key ways that work against Trump”:
On immigration, for example, the hard-line proposals that have rallied Trump’s fans — like building a massive wall along the country’s southern border to keep immigrants out — are considerably less likely to fire up conservative Latter-day Saints. The LDS church has spent years lobbying for “compassionate” immigration reform. […] These pro-immigrant attitudes are common among rank-and-file believers, many of whom have served missions in Latin American countries. Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals to say they support “more immigration” to the United States, according to Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell. And a 2012 Pew survey found Mormons were more likely to say immigrants “strengthen” the country than they were to call immigrants an overall “burden.”
Coppins also points out that Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric has angered many Mormons, who have traditionally been sensitive to issues related to religious freedom and persecution, and his comments after the San Bernardino terrorist attack even drew an official rebuke from the church itself. That's not all:
Trump is off-putting to Mormons for more predictable reasons as well. His blatant religious illiteracy, his penchant for onstage cursing, his habit of flinging crude insults at women, his less-than-virtuous personal life and widely chronicled marital failures — all of this is anathema to the wholesome, family-first lifestyle that Mormonism promotes. And demographically speaking, Mormons tend to reside outside Trump’s base of support anyway. They have higher-than-average education levels, whereas Trump does best among voters without any college education; they are more likely to be weekly churchgoers, while Trump performs better with Christians who attend services infrequently.
This post was updated to include McKay Coppins's analysis.