Utah usually votes overwhelmingly for the Republican presidential candidate, but this is a weird year. A new poll from Gravis Marketing shows Donald Trump barely leading Hillary Clinton in the state, 29 percent to 26 percent. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party got 16 percent, and 29 percent picked "other."
Trump did very poorly in the Utah caucuses—he finished third in a field of three, with just 14 percent of the vote—and he has long had trouble attracting Mormon support. Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, may benefit from higher name recognition in this part of the country; "other" no doubt benefits not just from the hope that a conservative alternative will run but from the dream that this conservative will be named Mitt Romney. Add the fact that third-party and independent candidates tend to poll better half a year before the election than when people actually vote, and the numbers become more comprehensible, if no less unusual.
But this is certainly good news for Johnson. Not just because his total is so high, but because it's this high in a survey that also includes an "other" option.
At this point I'm aware of six national surveys that have included the Johnson ticket. In four of them—a Monmouth poll in March, a Fox News poll in May, a Morning Consult poll in May, and a brand-new poll in Investor's Business Daily—his support has landed at either 10 or 11 percent. In two others, one from Public Policy Polling and one from Quinnipiac, he got 4–5 percent. The main difference between those last two surveys and the other four is that they also included Jill Stein of the Green Party; to me this suggests that the higher results are inflated by people who don't necessarily even know who Johnson is but just want to endorse someone not named Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
But that's not the case in Utah. "Other" isn't just included here; it's tied with Trump for the lead. And Johnson still manages to capture a substantial slice of support. It's a reminder that even if Johnson's national numbers in November wind up being closer to Nader in 2000 than Perot in 1992, he could still make a difference in some individual states. I'm not going to predict that he'll swing Utah to the Clinton column. But I'll repeat this: It's a weird year.
Bonus historical trivia #1: It wouldn't be the first time the L.P. nominee did much better in a specific state than he did across the country. In 1980, Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark got just 1 percent of the national vote. But in Alaska, he got 11.7 percent—better than John Anderson's much more publicized independent campaign, and just 15 percent less than Jimmy Carter.
Bonus historical trivia #2: When people list libertarian strongholds, Utah doesn't usually make the list, thanks to the state's tight restrictions on drinking and other pleasures. But on the very short list of post–World War II governors who arguably qualify as "libertarian-leaning," Utah can boast of the one exec who might outdo Gary Johnson: J. Bracken Lee. In 1956 Lee became, as far as I know, the only sitting governor ever to refuse to pay his income tax. And he wasn't a social conservative either—as mayor of Price he tolerated drinking, gambling, and prostitution, and as mayor of Salt Lake City he clashed with police chief W. Cleon Skousen (yes: that W. Cleon Skousen) over budget issues, "vice" issues (including Skousen's attempts to police homosexuality), and Lee's view that Skousen was "practicing Communism to fight it." For a transcript of the two of them berating each other shortly before Lee finally fired Skousen, go here.