March 21, 2016
Customary disclaimer first. Pollsters enjoy surveying possible general election matchup possibilities. These are more fun than informative. Once the actual nominees exist, polls start becoming very important very quickly.
In the Spring of 1992, Bill Clinton regularly ran third in a Perot/Bush/Clinton scenario. The real election had exactly those players, but the final results were reversed. So take the latest numbers from Utah with the proverbial grain of salt, but it doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no value to them.
Here’s what Deseret News found while surveying Utah voters from March 8 to March 15:
Clinton 38, Trump 36
Sanders 48, Trump 37
Cruz 60, Clinton 32
Cruz 53, Sanders 39
Kasich 59, Clinton 29
Kasich 54, Sanders 35
Let’s unpack what this means and what it doesn’t. A GOP candidate should never lose any matchup in Utah at any time for any reason. This is a stalwart Republican state. Having Trump trailing both Clinton and Sanders just looks bad.
It does not mean he would actually lose in November. Hillary is an exceedingly likely nominee right now. Trump trails her by 2, with a quarter of voters undecided. Though they may detest The Donald on general principles, or for what he’s said about Mitt Romney, who saved the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, it’s not like she’s anywhere near 50% yet.
It does mean he’s quite likely to finish third in the caucus on Tuesday. We have a poll from Y2 Analytics showing Trump a distant third, along with Deseret News indicating 21% support, well behind the combined 30% for Kasich and Rubio (poll was taken while Marco still existed.)
Mix those surveys with the big gap in general election matchup questions, and Trump is looking at a poor result.
We can see Bernie is clearly more popular than Hillary. He does better against each of the three possible GOP opponents. It’s in line with his 8 point lead over Clinton among Democrats, and is an example of his greater crossover appeal.
Though the nomination is mostly settled, and Democrats aren’t likely to base their decision on who has a better chance of winning Utah, it is a reminder that Sanders is doing better in these matchup polls more often.
It’s very good news for John Kasich. Utah is a good state for Ted Cruz. Popular Senator Mike Lee endorsed him. It was Ross Perot’s third best state in 1992, something we’ve found is a strong indicator of 2016 support for Ted.
Utah is far more conservative than the average state. Cruz will at least flirt with exceeding 50% and grabbing all the caucus delegates. Regardless of how badly you might think he would do as a general election candidate, nobody would ever suggest Utah is a possible loss.
The numbers bear this out. He has almost double Clinton’s support and a healthy lead on Sanders. But Kasich has a microscopically larger advantage on Hillary, and is running ahead of Cruz against Bernie.
If Kasich is a better general election choice (even temporarily and theoretically) in Utah, he’s a much better general election choice anywhere it matters.
Again, these numbers are only vaguely predictive. Just because he’s marginally ahead of Cruz now, does not mean he would actually run better in Utah later.
But Kasich needs every advantage he can get to show strength, make an argument for his candidacy, and build evidence for delegates, should he last long enough to worry about what happens at the convention.
If he arrives in Cleveland with similarly strong numbers, at a time much closer to when voters will actually decide, it’s a big item in his favor. Kasich is arguing he’s the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton.
Trump says the same. Cruz says he’s the only Republican who can beat Donald Trump. You get the idea. All of these guys make similar claims. The data breaks ties. Kasich won’t win Arizona. At best he finishes second in Utah. March 22nd is not the night he becomes a leading contender.
However, if the Deseret News numbers indicate a wider trend, Kasich will have a steady stream of favorable numbers to back up his argument. This particular survey was taken prior to his Ohio win. If a candidate who had yet to win a single contest polled this well, one wonders what would happen if he actually won Wisconsin or something.