SALT LAKE CITY — Reaction to Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to remove President Donald Trump from office has ranged from outrage to praise across the country and in Utah.
Those mixed emotions are reflected in a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll with KSL showing 22% of Utahns are disappointed and 21% are proud to have Romney as their senator in light of his vote to convict Trump.
The poll also found that 14% are encouraged, 13% are pleased, 11% are embarrassed and 8% are angry. Another 11% weren’t sure.
Given those results, Utah voters overall reaction to Romney’s decision was 49% positive to 40% negative, with 11% not sure.
Also, Romney’s approval rating dropped slightly, while Trump’s went up a sliver compared to the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll conducted in January before the Senate impeachment trial started.
Romney is the first U.S. senator to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial.
Republicans were more disappointed than angry or embarrassed, the poll shows.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen called Utahns’ reaction to Romney’s decision mild.
“I think that the events that are considered earth-shattering or momentous in Washington, D.C., don’t necessarily carry the same weight when you get out to voters across the country,” he said.
Rasmussen surveyed 500 Utah registered voters Feb. 7-10. The poll has margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Romney’s office decline to comment on the poll Tuesday.
The numbers change dramatically according to party affiliation. The polls shows 60% of Republicans had a negative reaction to Romney’s vote, while 31% were positive. Of those, 34% were disappointed, 14% embarrassed and 12% angry. And the more conservative, the more upset Utahns were.
Among Democrats, 83% had a positive reaction to Romney’s vote and only 13% negative.
So, Republicans are not quite as negative as the Democrats are positive.
“Obviously, there’s a partisan take, Republicans not as happy as Democrats. In fact, Republicans are unhappy with it,” Rasmussen said. “But even the Republican reaction was a bit muted.”
The GOP sentiment, he said, was more like, “We wish he would have done it the other way, but we’re not storming the barricades.”
The poll also found 37% of Utahns less likely to vote for Romney in the next election and 36% more likely to vote for him in light of his Senate vote, while for 22% it had no impact. Romney would come up for reelection in 2024.
Republicans were 56% less likely to vote the freshman senator, while 23% were more likely, according to the poll. Among those who describe themselves as very conservative, 62% were less likely to vote for Romney.
If Romney were involved in a primary election right now, Republican unhappiness might be an issue, but in general they have had a “fairly modest” reaction to the vote, according to Rasmussen.
Conservative state delegates forced Romney into a primary in 2018, which he won handily before winning Utah’s open Senate seat with 62.6% of the vote in the general election.
Romney might have to make peace with Republican voters who expressed displeasure over his vote.
“If he wants to win in 2024, he’s going to have to win that group over and explain to their satisfaction,” said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
But he predicts Romney’s vote to convict Trump won’t have a serious detrimental effect on his reelection, should he decide to run.
“The entire political chessboard is going to change by 2024,” Perry said.
The approval ratings for Romney, Trump and GOP Sen. Mike Lee — a staunch defender of the president during the impeachment trial — didn’t change much from January to February.
If he wants to win in 2024, he’s going to have to win that group over and explain to their satisfaction.
–Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics
The new poll found 54% of Utahns approve of Trump, while 45% disapprove. Both numbers are up 1 percentage point. It showed 80% of Utah Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing.
Romney has a 50% approval rating, with 42% disapproving of his performance. He was at 52% and 38%, respectively, last month. Among Republicans, 49% disapprove and 40% approve, the poll shows.
Lee’s approval rating dropped 1 percentage point to 47%, while disapproval went up a point to 31%.
“I don’t think anything that happened in the impeachment trial caused anybody to look at Mike Lee differently, or quite frankly to look at Mitt Romney all that differently,” Rasmussen said.
Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, anticipated serious “blowback” from Trump and the president’s supporters nationally and in Utah. The response to his Senate speech and vote was immediate, with calls for censure and even expulsion from the party.
Trump lashed out at him on Twitter and in speeches at the National Prayer Breakfast and at his victory rally in the White House.
Just Monday, the president said to Gov. Gary Herbert, “How’s Mitt Romney? You keep him. We don’t want him.”
Members of the Utah Republican Party Central Committee have drafted a resolution to censure Romney and a call on him to “vigorously” support Trump’s agenda or give up his seat. Romney has voted for the president’s policies 80% of the time.
Romney last week made the rounds with Utah GOP legislative leaders, many of whom called his vote wrong. On Tuesday, the House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told reporters after a closed Republican caucus that lawmakers have scrapped bills to recall a U.S. senator and to censure Romney.
Instead, the House will back a citation Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, suggested last week thanking Trump “for all the great things he’s done for the state of Utah.”