The Little-Known Presidential Candidate Who Could Make Some History

October 13th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

The full impact of Donald Trump's leaked comments boasting about sexual assault is still yet to be be seen, but there is at least one conservative stronghold where the vulgar comments may prove deadly.

In Utah, which has a high concentration of socially conservative, Mormon voters, Trump's remarks seem to have cost him Republican votes, Politico reported on Thursday. A survey research company in the state, Y2 Analytics, recently released a poll that found Trump's lead over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has fallen to a new low. The two nominees are tied at 26 percent support.

Utah Polling

And with that, Trump may have opened a path to victory for an Independent candidate who has virtually no national recognition: Evan McMullin. The little-known conservative Independent candidate, who is only on the ballot in 11 states, has jumped 10 points in Utah polls since September. He's now within striking distance of the major party nominees at 22 percent support.

Though a larger fraction of respondents identified as Independent than Republican in the survey — in a state where registered Republicans represent the majority — Y2 Analytics spokesperson Scott Riding told ATTN: that "[p]arty registration in Utah is misleading" because the GOP primaries are closed to non-registered voters and "so Utahns of all political leanings register with the Republican party so they can participate." Among respondents who identified as Independent, 63 percent "admit to being Republican or Republican leaners, even if they are avoiding the label," Riding said.

Evan McMullin

McMullin comes from an intelligence and banking background, with limited experience in governance. His platform focuses on traditional Republican issues such as supporting free trade and national security, but he's also "been critical of Trump on immigration, refugees, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and on temperament and fitness to be president," FiveThirtyEight reported.

“I think Evan McMullin is appealing to a certain kind of voter here in Utah — and that is Republican voters who are disillusioned with Donald Trump, especially Mormon voters,” Dr. Christopher Karpowitz, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, told ATTN:. “He is trying to occupy this space where he is arguing that he's a safe alternative for Republicans who are not ready to vote for the Democratic candidate but who want an alternative and can't see themselves voting for Donald Trump given everything we know about Donald Trump.”

Karpowitz continued: “Prior to the revelations of last week from the “Access Hollywood” tape, I would've predicted that Donald Trump would win Utah by 10 or 15 points — underperforming what Republicans tend to do in the state by quite a lot but still doing well enough to win. The tape seems to have changed things in some way,” Karpowitz added.

In a press release, Y2 Analytics said its polling supported the idea that the Trump tapes played a roll in the shift toward McMullin:

"Our poll shows that 64 percent of voters in Utah have seen the video, while another 30 percent had heard about it. Among those that had either watched or heard about the video, 37 percent say they now think worse of Trump because of the tape. Trump’s support in Utah had already lagged significantly behind prior Republican nominees, but this revelation has weakened him to the point of losing his tenuous lead."

In the days after the so-called "Trump Tapes" was released, GOP lawmakers such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, current Gov. Gary Herbert, and Sen. Mike Lee implored Trump to drop out of the presidential race. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said simply, "I'm out," and pulled his support for the nominee.

"I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president," Chaffetz told Fox 13 last week. "It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine. My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person."

But like many Republicans who've jumped off the Trump train in recent days, Chaffetz and other Utah leaders remain firmly opposed to a Clinton presidency. And given two unfavorable choices, more Utah voters are opting for the third-party candidate. 

While McMullin's views are in line with those of traditional conservatives, the fact that an unknown candidate who's never been elected to public office has an outside chance of becoming the first third party candidate to win a state since 1968 shows just how severely Trump has disrupted presidential politics in 2016.