2020 Election

The State Shifts – Utah

The state shift will be an ongoing series examining the shift in presidential vote between 2016 and 2020 in each state.

Utah, a reliably red state with the most religious population in the country, experienced a swing 2.6% right from 2016. Donald Trump increased his margins in reliably red counties to raise his overall percentage in the state to 58.1% vs 45.1% in 2016. Joe Biden also increased the Democratic percentage of votes in the state to 37.6% vs 27.2% in 2016. One huge factor that did not play a role in this cycle was the absence of a legitimate third party candidate. Independent candidate and former CIA agent Evan McMullin came within 6% of claiming second place in the state in 2016, and the third party share of the vote plummeted from 27.7% to 4.2% in 2020.

County Flips

The only county flip this cycle as compared to 2016 was Grand County, which voted for a Democrat for the first time since 2008. Grand County, which has the lowest share of LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) members in the entire state, swung heavily toward Joe Biden. Grand County like much of Utah has been growing at a very fast rate at a clip of 15% since 2000, and currently has approximately 9,764 residents. The county seat of Grand County is Moab and the county is home to two National Parks in Canyonlands and Arches. Grand County voted for Donald Trump by 0.3% in 2016 and Joe Biden carried the county by 10.3% in 2020.

LDS Factor

Whenever you ask someone to explain the state of Utah in one word most people will say Mormon. The Church of Jesus of Latter Saints plays an important role in every aspect of the state from politics to the economy. The correlation of votes in the state when broken down by LDS affiliation is also clear. The only three counties that voted for Joe Biden during the 2020 election were all counties that do not have over 50% of residents that are LDS members. Salt Lake County, Grand County, and Summit County were the only counties that voted for Joe Biden, and the closest county that has over 75% LDS affiliation was Utah County, which is home to Brigham-Young University and the margin of victory for Donald Trump was 41.1%.

The Future

The future in Utah is incredibly uncertain as the state is growing at a very high rate. However, unlike other states Utah’s rise has not come simply because of migration, but also because of the amount of children Utah residents continue to have which is the highest in the country. Utah has grown by around 1,000,000 residents since 2000 and the state is continuing to grow at one of the fastest rates in the country due to its high migration and high birth rates. The fastest growing areas of Utah are the Salt Lake City area and Utah County. Utah would seem to be a future Democratic Party target due to its high rate of education and being the youngest state in the union. However, for the state to turn into anything other than a reliably red state some major changes and inroads would have to take place for the Democratic Party to make up its huge deficit in the state. Democrats lost one of their surprise gains from 2018 in Ben McAdams-UT 4, who lost his race by 1%, and with the population gains in Salt Lake County and Utah County which a large portion of Utah’s 4th Congressional district covers, Democrats would be wise to continue to compete for the seat in 2022. The reality is that most LDS members are not Democratic voters and until Democrats can find a way to reach these voters their efforts statewide will face long odds of ever succeeding.

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