Endgame: McMullin 31, Trump 27, Clinton 24 in Utah

True story: Before joining Team McMullin as an advisor, anti-Trumper Rick Wilson claims that The Rock came up in discussions of possible third-party candidates to challenge Trump from the right. Yes, really. No, there’s not another “The Rock” out there. It’s the guy you’re thinking of.

But it didn’t pan out, so now we’ve got McMullin, who, if this poll from Emerson College is to be believed, is … the frontrunner in Utah.

Can you smell what Evan McMullin is cooking?

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Who are Utah’s McMullin voters? They’re anti-Trumpers of all stripes, but in particular, they’re Ted Cruz voters. You may remember that Cruz crushed Trump in the Utah caucuses, winning 69/17. I believe that was his biggest margin of victory in any primary this year, and an early warning of how much trouble Trump might have in consolidating the state’s socially conservative Mormon majority. Fast-forward seven months and Emerson finds McMullin winning Cruz supporters 51/29. He’s also winning handily among 18-34-year-olds, taking 36 percent versus 22 apiece for Trump and Clinton. Conservative ideologues and young adults, whose party ID may not be as firm as older voters’, have united to give the fourth-party candidate an unlikely lead.

The reason to believe this poll is accurate is obvious, namely, it’s well in line with all of the other recent polls of Utah. McMullin’s been at 20 percent or better in the last four surveys and reached 29 percent in Rasmussen’s data, just a point behind Trump. It may well be that, as news has spread that he’s in contention there, his name recognition has climbed and more Utahns have shifted from Trump to him, pushing him above 30 percent. The reason not to believe this poll, as you already know if you’ve read our other posts on Emerson, is that Emerson uses an unusual methodology — specifically, it only calls landlines, not cell phones, in conducting its surveys. That’s destined to produce a questionable result since it means that anyone who uses a cell phone exclusively will be excluded from the pool of people who might end up in an Emerson survey. The sample won’t be representative of the population, which is precisely what samples are supposed to be. Typically landlines-only polls tend to underestimate support for Democrats by overlooking young adults, since it’s young adults who are most likely to not have a landline, and young adults, of course, lean liberal. In Utah, however, given McMullin’s strength with the 18-34 crowd, it may be that Emerson is underestimating his support — i.e., his lead may be bigger than this poll indicates because some young McMullin fans who rely solely on cell phones are being excluded from the sample. The next poll from a different pollster could have him in the mid-30s.

Note well, too: If he’s surging in Utah, odds are fair that he’s making a move in Idaho too. There have been no polls of Idaho yet that include McMullin, but one that came out a few days ago had Trump ahead just 40/30 over Clinton before the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged. Idaho is another state where Cruz defeated Trump easily in the primary (45/28) and it has a large Mormon minority of roughly 20 percent. McMullin might not win there, but he could peel off enough Republican votes to put it in play for Democrats.

Speaking of which, a Twitter pal raised an interesting strategic question: If you’re a Democrat in Utah, wouldn’t it make sense at this point to abandon Clinton and vote for McMullin in the name of denying Trump six electoral votes? If Dems start defecting to McMullin, he’s a cinch to win the state; Clinton, meanwhile, is perennially stuck between 25-30 percent ,leaving her with virtually no real chance of victory. Moving Utah from the Republican to the independent column would be an embarrassment to Trump — although I’m not sure what Clinton gains from it apart from a slightly greater chance of having the House decide the election just in case Trump wildly overperforms on Election Day and both major-party candidates end up with ~265 electoral votes. Even then, it’s unlikely that Clinton wins in the House. Denying Utah to Trump is useful only insofar as it might conceivably deny the presidency to him as well by holding him under 270 on Election Night and giving the House a chance to choose McMullin (or some other Republican?) as president instead.