Poll: Was Utah Democrats' vote to back Evan McMullin the right move?

Independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin shakes hands with delegates at the Utah Democratic Party convention on April 23 at Cottonwood High School in Murray. McMullin is running for Sen. Mike Lee’s seat as an independent.

Independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin shakes hands with delegates at the Utah Democratic Party convention on April 23 at Cottonwood High School in Murray. McMullin is running for Sen. Mike Lee’s seat as an independent. (Katie McKellar, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — It was an unprecedented move that left some of the most devoted members of the Utah Democratic Party conflicted — and some even some totally dejected.

So it's not surprising that Utahns in general are split on the issue or just don't know what to think about it.

The Utah Democratic Party last month made the extraordinary decision not to nominate its own U.S. Senate candidate, Kael Weston, to run for the seat held by GOP Sen. Mike Lee in November and instead joined the coalition backing Republican-turned-independent Evan McMullin.

The Utah Democratic Party's 57% to 43% vote left many delegates feeling what they described as more energized and relevant than they have in a long time in a race that otherwise would be unwinnable. Delegates from the other side, however, left the convention deflated, feeling like their own party had disenfranchised them while acknowledging Utah Democrats are so irrelevant in the statewide political landscape they've abandoned their own candidate.

So what do Utahns think?

Poll results

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll asked Utahns whether they agree or disagree — regardless of their own political affiliation — with the Utah Democratic Party's decision.

Overall, 36% said they agree, 44% disagree and 21% said they didn't know.

Poll: Was Utah Democrats' vote to back Evan McMullin the right move?
Photo: Deseret News

More specifically, 15% said they strongly agree, 21% said they somewhat agree, 24% said they somewhat disagree and 20% said they strongly disagree.

Now let's break it down by political party.

Among Utahns that affiliate as Democrats, the poll found the most support for the decision. Of them, 50% said they agree with the decision, 36% said they disagree and 14% said they didn't know. More specifically, 27% said they strongly agree, 23% said they somewhat agree, 16% said they somewhat disagree and 20% said they strongly disagree.

For Republicans, 33% said they agree, while 46% said they disagree and 21% said they didn't know what to think. More specifically, 13% said they strongly agree, 20% said they somewhat agree, 23% said they somewhat disagree and 23% said they strongly disagree.

As for those that identified as neither Republicans or Democrats, selecting "other" for their party affiliation, the results are also conflicted, with a large chunk not knowing what to think: Thirty-four percent said they agreed with the decision while 42% said they disagreed and 24% said they didn't know. More specifically, 12% strongly agreed, 22% somewhat agreed, 30% somewhat agreed and 12% strongly disagreed.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted the survey of 808 Utah registered voters May 7-13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

'Just insanity'

Though the results are mixed, some Utahns have much stronger feelings about the decision than others.

Take Caralee Woods, a Democratic state delegate and former chairwoman of the Kane County Democratic Party, who participated in the poll. Woods said the decision to back McMullin and not nominate Weston left her feeling like her "vote was suppressed" and she no longer intends to vote in the Senate race this year.

"What happened there is just insanity," Woods told the Deseret News in an interview.

"The reason that a state Democratic Party exists is to nominate and elect Democrats. You can't say it any plainer than that," Woods said. "It's shameful what happened, absolutely shameful. ... Either you're a Democrat or you're not."

Woods scoffed at the argument that Democrats should throw their support behind McMullin to up the chances of beating Lee, should he win a primary election against Ally Isom and Becky Edwards.

"It's so ironic. 'I can't win without Democrat votes.' You just screwed yourself then. You just crapped in your own nest. That's what they did, they crapped in their own nest. The really sad part about it, Kael is such a great candidate," she said.

Woods said she doesn't think McMullin has a chance of winning, and "I know many, many of my colleagues have no intention of voting in that race."

Woods pointed specifically at former Rep. Ben McAdams, an influential moderate Democrat who was an instrumental voice behind the party's decision to back McMullin, accusing him of concocting a "major scheme."

"I'm not sure if he was, at the time, using McMullin as a tool, but the bottom line is that they're both tools," Woods said. "Personally, I think that Ben McAdams is trying to be successful here so in a couple of years he can run as an independent because he was never much of a Democrat anyway."

'Country over party'

McAdams continues to say the Utah Democratic Party's vote was, above all, about "putting what's right for the country ahead of what's right for the party."

"And that's something that's always been important to me in my public service, is doing what's right regardless of whether that aligns or doesn't with my political party," McAdams said, noting that during his time in Congress he was the No. 1 representative most likely to vote against his own party.

"I think Utah Democrats did the right thing," McAdams said. "They made a hard choice. And it was a hard choice. They had a good candidate in the race, but they made a hard choice to say there's too much at stake in this election, and we have to do what we think is right for the country, not what's right for the party."

McAdams said the poll results indicate how difficult and complex the issue is for Utahns.

"You know, it is a harsh reality that we have to reckon with," McAdams said, "that a Democrat is not going to win the U.S. Senate race this year. ... For a lot of people, that's a hard thing to come to terms with but it is the reality."

McAdams added it is "important to be a voice" as a Democrat in Utah, "even if there's an unlikelihood that Democrats can win an election."

But this year, "I believe there's too much at stake to simply concede that we're willing to lose an election when we have a path to win by uniting with Republicans and independents behind a candidate who is going to be moderate and mainstream and be a voice for a majority of Utahns who feel unrepresented."

According to the poll, the largest portion of those polls who supported the decision were Democrats. Even if it was 50%, McAdams said "that's consistent with what we saw at convention."

"The majority of Democrats see that this race is about more than just the Democratic Party," he said. "You know, I'm proud of Utah Democrats who, alongside me, said enough is enough and now is the time to join coalitions and to become something bigger by joining alongside independents and moderate Republicans to do something that is important for the country."

Party politics

Thom DeSirant, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, said since the convention vote there indeed have been "a lot of discussions" both from Democrats and Republicans about whether it was the right move and if "delegates are representative of the population."

"In this case, based off your poll, it appears that it does represent that delegates are representing the population," he said. "No matter what, the delegates have made their choice and the party's going to follow their express will."

Even though the largest chunk of Democrats who participated in the poll said they agreed with the decision, that segment was still only 50%. That indicates Utah Democrats continue to grapple with the decision. However, while the poll might not have the same spread as the vote, the vote still represents that larger chunk of Democrats.

"It was definitely a really difficult choice," DeSirant said. "I've heard from people on both sides who feel strongly about it. Some people I know really liked the idea of supporting Evan McMullin but just didn't feel right about it because they felt like we're the Democratic Party and we need to support the Democrat."

Others, he said, "were just horrified by what happened on Jan. 6" and Lee's leaked text messages to Mark Meadows, then-President Donald Trump's chief of staff, exploring ideas to overturn the 2020 election. They concluded, "this is something we have to do and we have to put our country before our party."

As for the GOP, it's difficult to fully deduce why some Utah Republicans would say they agree with the move — whether some are moderates and were glad to see the Utah Democratic Party back a candidate they would like to vote for or whether they saw the move as bad for the Democratic Party and nothing but good news for the Utah GOP.

Carson Jorgensen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, agrees with the latter. To him, the poll results show even among Utah Democrats a good segment of their own party membership remain conflicted about the decision.

"Within your own party, that's pretty tough," he said. "The way it looks to me, Utah Democrats are split right down the middle. And in the state of Utah, if you don't have your full party's weight behind you, you're behind."

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

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Katie McKellar

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