Romney's approval rises to 56/42 in new Utah poll. How come?

A fascinating result considering how he was polling after his fateful impeachment vote. I’ll give you three theories to explain it.

A new 2News survey shows 56 percent of Utah voters either “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of Romney’s job performance. 42 percent say they disapprove. Romney is in a strong political position right now with a net positive approval of +14.

That’s a massive reversal from our previous survey in March when just 36 percent of Utahns approved of Romney’s job performance, while 49 percent disapproved…

69 percent of “strong” Republicans disapprove of how Romney is handling his job, but 55 percent of moderate Republicans approve of him. A majority of independents and Democrats also say they approve.

That’s a net turnaround of 27 points in two months despite the fact that Romney hasn’t had much to do lately in Congress except rubber-stamp coronavirus fiscal relief packages. Mike Lee, Utah’s other senator, is at 46/47 approval. Romney’s more popular than he is!

Three theories. First, Utah Republicans just can’t stay mad at the first Mormon major-party presidential nominee in American history, especially since his impeachment vote ultimately didn’t prevent Trump’s acquittal. Hardcore Trumpers will bear him a grudge forever (note his disapproval among “strong” Republicans in the excerpt) but Utah has fewer hardcore Trumpers than most other states. He’s not out of the woods on a tough primary but he has four years to solve that problem.

Second, the last time Romney skirmished with Trump was over the issue of mail-in voting, and Utahns are on his side on that. “In my state, I’ll bet 90% of us vote by mail. It works very very well and it’s a very Republican state,” he told reporters a few weeks ago when Trump was ranting about the process as some sort of election-rigging conspiracy. Maybe his constituents were glad to see him sticking up for their way of doing things.

Third, and most intriguingly, maybe his bounce is a reaction to the rocky patch Trump has hit. Reading today’s poll, I thought back to the fact that Obama spent much of his presidency polling in the mid-40s in job approval until the 2016 campaign really got rolling, when he began to creep up. He topped 50 percent reliably through much of 2016 and ended up at 57 percent on Election Day, which I’ve always taken as a reflection of how voters felt about the choice facing them: “I’m not crazy about Obama but he’s better than these two losers.” Maybe Romney’s benefiting from the same effect. As a politician whose legacy will be defined by his willingness to remove Trump from office, the worse Trump’s performance is, the more Romney seems “prescient” in hindsight — sort of. Someone who doesn’t like how Trump is handling the pandemic, say, logically shouldn’t let that affect their assessment of whether the House’s case against Trump in the Ukraine matter had merit.

But politics doesn’t work in logical linear fashion that way. Some who’ve grown to feel dissatisfied with Trump’s performance may decide in their annoyance that “Romney was right” and reward him for it with a good rating of his own. Today Trump is at 43.5 percent approval in the RCP average, his lowest number since early December, i.e. the impeachment era. Last week his disapproval touched 54.1 percent, the highest level since mid-November. Whether it’s the pandemic or the economic crater or the fallout from his handling of the George Floyd protests is unclear but he’s unquestionably having a bad patch here. Maybe Romney’s a beneficiary.

Joe Biden’s definitely a beneficiary. New from Monmouth:

Biden currently has the support of 52% of registered voters and Trump has the support of 41%. The Democrat’s lead has been slowly widening. It stood at 50% to 41% last month, 48% to 44% in April, and 48% to 45% in March…

More voters think that Trump’s handling of the outbreak has made it less likely (38%) rather than more likely (18%) that he will be reelected in November. This marks a shift from April when opinion on this question was almost evenly divided (31% less likely to 27% more likely).

That’s four months in a row that Biden’s lead has grown, coincidentally beginning when the epidemic exploded and the lockdowns began. Here’s the most alarming number for Trump:

Biden’s favorable rating isn’t great either at just 42/49 but those numbers are largely stable for him. (They were identical in January.) Trump’s never been as low as 38 percent favorable or as high as 57 percent unfavorable in a Monmouth poll over the past nine months, not even during impeachment. His numbers are in uncharted territory in other polling too:

The Washington Post had Trump trailing Biden by 10 over the weekend, 53/43, when they had the race nearly tied two months ago. Reuters also has Trump trailing Biden today by 10, 47/37, an almost unimaginable number for an incumbent. His overall job approval is at 39 percent; on the specific issue of how he’s handling the Floyd protests it’s lower than that, with 55 percent disapproving. Weirdly, although the spread of COVID-19 has slowed down and the country has begun to reopen, he’s getting unusually bad marks on the pandemic too. Morning Consult has him at 41/53 on that issue right now, his worst rating yet, with approval down in all three partisan groups (by 19 net points among Republicans since March).

If I’m right that Romney’s political fortunes are destined to increase (modestly) the more Trump looks unequal to the enormous challenges that face him then it’s no surprise that he’s up in Utah right now. Trump’s having the roughest stretch of his presidency — or any presidency in modern times, really. The guy who voted to remove him might be getting a second look from some heretofore skeptical Utahns.