Mormon "Evan-gelicals" Dump Trump

Today we got the Utah poll we've been waiting for. After the revelation of Donald Trump's foul-mouthed bragging about sexual assualt and adultery, how would the calm, committed, couth, conservative voters of Utah respond? 

They're headed in the exact direction signaled in these pages last month, when we analyzed Trump's multi-variable problem in Utah. Mormons are repulsed by Trump because of his preferred policy emphases (anti-immigrant and anti-religious liberty) and his temperament (cruel and lascivious). I speculated that the upstart campaign of Evan McMullin -- the BYU alumnus, former CIA operative, and Republican policy director who will be on their ballot in November -- will have a bigger effect than people realize.

Well-regarded sociological research by David Campbell has suggested that the "dry kindling" of the "Mormon vote" can be activated quickly and successfully by the right spark. We often talk about voting blocs that don't really exist (soccer moms, Nascar dads, college-educated suburbanites, Catholics), but Mormons are a real one. They have cultural distinctiveness, social cohesion, and geographical concentration. 

Trump's disastrous campaign opened up the opportunity to test Campbell's "dry kindling" idea, and we now have a real-life, presidential-level experiment of a sociological theory underway. The data are coming in, and the award-winning sociologist is on fire -- as is McMullin. Utah's Mormons are looking Evan-gelical.

The poll of 500 likely voters in Utah has Trump and Clinton tied at 26%, with McMullin at 22% and Johnson at 14%. Perhaps more significantly, a jaw-dropping 51% of respondents said that Trump "should drop out of the presidential race."

Did McMullin catch "lightining in a bottle," as Boyd Matheson, president of Utah’s conservative Sutherland Institute, suggested he might? More like lightning on a Utah brush fire. 

The fire was already spreading a month ago when top elected officials in Utah, such as Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, retweeted my previous analysis of Utah's aversion to Trump. Then McMullin began campaigning there in earnest, leading to 22% share of this poll, though a whopping 48% of those polled had never heard of him prior to the phone call. Of the 51% that had heard of him, he got almost half of their support in the poll. That must be a near-unprecedented ratio between voter awareness and voter support -- a direct proof of the dry kindling theory. 

While we knew months ago that the state's political saint, Mitt Romney, was on the #NeverTrump train, the past few days unleashed the entire cloud of witnesses. Rep. Jason Chaffetz was the first House Republican to defect from support of Trump, and virtually all the top Republicans in Utah followed suit: the governor, Rep. Mia Love, Sen. Mike Lee, and more. 

In the coming week, attention may turn toward Arizona too. Here is a state teetering on the electoral edge, with only a very slim lead for Trump in recent polls. As new polls come out from after Trump's lewd videotape, he will likely lose ground in the state, which is also approximately 30% Latino and thus unfavorable toward his harsh immigration stance. And though McMullin is not on the ballot there, a write-in effort from the state's significant Mormon population (5-6%) may be just enough to tilt a close race. 

In 2000, only a few hundred votes decided Florida. Arizona has over 400,000 Mormons in over 800 wards. That's 200,000 Mormon women in Arizona. That's a lot of dry kindling, fired up against Trump. 


Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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