On the surface, this seems like a ludicrous question to ask: Could Joe Biden, a Democrat, win Utah, the longest Republican voting state in the country? Well, tied for longest voting red state to be technical. The last time Utah pulled the lever blue was in 1964 when they voted for Lyndon B. Johnson. Since then, the Beehive State hasn’t looked back and voted Republican with very little resistance.
However, 2016 was the first time since 1964 that the Republican candidate did not get the majority of the votes in Utah. Trump won Utah in 2016 with just 45.5% of the vote. 55.5% of the vote went to Hillary Clinton (27.5%), Evan McMullin (21.5%), and other (7.5%). When you look at these numbers and consider the fact that (A) Trump hasn’t grown his base and actually lost some support with the fact that (B) Biden doesn’t have as high of negatives as Hillary Clinton, one has to think that this could be the year the streak ends.
The way Biden wins Utah is if he gets around 35% of the votes, Trump gets around 34% and the other 29% vote for a third party candidate or protest vote for neither candidate. A win in Utah for Biden would be incredibly narrow, but mathematically, I could see it happening. Biden getting 35% of the vote compared to Hillary’s 27.5% doesn’t sound crazy and Trump losing ground to the point that he gets 34% of the vote doesn’t sound all that crazy, either. Especially when you consider he garnered just 45.5% of the votes last in 2016.
By my calculations if Trump gets 75.0% of the votes that he got in 2016, meaning one in four Utah voters who voted for him last time don’t vote for him in 2020, he’ll get 34.125% of the vote instead of 45.5%. So, all it would take to swing things in Biden’s favor is to have one in four Utah voters who voted for Trump last time not vote for Trump again and have half of them defect to vote for him instead. As a matter of fact, I could see Trump losing more than 25.0% of the Utah voters who voted for him, creating a real path to victory for Biden.
One other factor that I haven’t yet mentioned is those who didn’t vote in Utah in 2016. You had a lot people stay home because they didn’t like Trump or Clinton and didn’t care to vote for a third party candidate. There was lot of “how can I choose between two candidates who are awful?” chatter going on in Utah. That’s why McMullin did as well as he did. In 2020, you could see a surge of voters who didn’t vote last time coming out to vote for Biden for no other reason than to remove Trump. I don’t know how many of those voters are out there, but there could be enough to give Biden that extra boost he needs.
A final factor is newly registered voters in the state of Utah. Democrats tend to do better among younger voters, so it stands to reason that Biden will get a bit of a bump as well from voters who were under the age of 18 in 2016. Rocking the youth vote will be key for Utah to flip blue. There’s also the factor of people who moved from other states into Utah, but that’s a group that I really can’t quantify one way or the other.
The bottom line is that while Trump should be favored to win Utah, a path to victory for Biden is conceivable. The fact that 270towin.com labels Utah as “likely Trump” and not “safe Trump” indicates that a window of opportunity is there for Biden. It’s just a matter of him threading the needle and giving Utah voters real hope that he can win. If there is a real belief in that state that it can flip blue, maybe that will be enough to push Biden over the top.
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