About 41% of registered voters would vote for Lee in the general election compared to 36% who said they would throw their support behind McMullin, according to recent polling by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics. Another 14% would choose another candidate, and 8% are still undecided.
Although the numbers show Lee with a healthy lead, strategists say he isn’t in the clear yet — with campaigning set to heat up in the coming weeks.
“Utah has not seen a Senate race this competitive in decades,” Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute, told the outlet. “Both Lee and McMullin have a base of support locked in and will spend the next few months in a contentious fight to win over the few who remain undecided. This race is going to be expensive with tremendous outside interest.”
The survey was conducted between July 13-18 among 801 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
The latest numbers are consistent with previous polling in June that showed McMullin nabbing 37% of the vote compared to Lee’s 41%. However, it’s a significant shift from a March poll that showed McMullin trailing by 24 percentage points — setting the stage for a competitive November race in the solidly Republican state.
The shrinking gap is a sign of hope for McMullin, especially as the independent points to Lee’s rising disapproval rating in the state. Forty-seven percent of Utah voters disapprove of Lee’s performance, slightly higher than the 46% who say they approve, according to the poll. Another 7% didn’t have an opinion.
“Even with over 90% name ID here in Utah, multiple public polls show that Sen. Lee is barely cracking 40% support. That’s historically weak for an incumbent Republican in Utah, but it’s not surprising if you look at Sen. Lee’s record,” Andrew Roberts, campaign manager for McMullin, told the Washington Examiner. “People are just sick of Sen. Lee’s divisive and ineffective approach to politics that puts special interests, party bosses, and himself first while leaving Utahns behind.”
McMullin won the backing of Utah Democrats after party leaders voted in April to nix their own candidate from the ballot to throw their support behind the independent, conceding Democrats have an uphill battle trying to unseat an incumbent Republican senator in the reliably red state. The vote not to advance a candidate from their own party was a first-of-its-kind move aimed at shifting the balance of power in the state.
McMullin has proved to be popular among Democratic voters in Utah, with 63% saying they would vote for him in the general election, according to the poll. About 41% of independent voters said they’d back him, as well as 28% of Republicans.
McMullin has said he won’t caucus with Republicans or Democrats if elected to the Senate, prompting criticism from some corners of the GOP that the decision will limit his influence in Congress. However, the Senate hopeful has argued he will be able to represent all Utah voters rather than limiting himself to align with one party.
This pledge has prompted pushback from Lee’s supporters, who argue his strategy “does not appeal to Utah voters.”
“Evan McMullin is trying to be all things to all people,” Matt Lusty, campaign spokesman for Lee, told the Washington Examiner. “Utahns across this state appreciate Sen. Lee’s principled, authentic leadership. Sen. Lee knows the challenges that face our republic and our state, and he is willing to take difficult positions to stand up to the Biden agenda that is harming hardworking Utah families.”