SALT LAKE CITY – A recent statewide surge in voter registrations is providing little comfort to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson.
The number of active registered Democratic voters jumped by more than 36,000 since July, according to state officials. That increase brings the number of active Democratic voters in Utah to nearly 250,000.
But Peterson still trails badly in recent polling against GOP candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
According to a statewide survey commissioned by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Deseret News, 50 percent of likely Utah voters would cast ballots for Cox if the general election were held today.
By comparison, only 26 percent of likely voters favor Peterson’s candidacy, according to the survey conducted by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen.
That polling also revealed that nearly 10 percent of Utah votes will likely go to third party candidates (6 percent to libertarian Daniel Cottam and 3 percent to Gregory Duerden, of the Independent American party), while another 16 percent of Utahns are still undecided about the gubernatorial race.
Cox’ campaign is undoubtedly benefiting from an even greater voter registration surge within GOP ranks. Since July, the number of active Republicans registered with state officials has grown by nearly 60,000, from 789,625 to 850,071 as of Oct. 19.
The polling data is not entirely bad news for the Democratic candidate, however.
Cox’ support among likely Utah voters has actually slipped slightly from a high point of 52 percent during polling in September. The Cox campaign dismisses that approval dip as being within the poll’s margin of error.
But Peterson attributes that change to growing voter frustration with the state’s less than effective handling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Since early July, Peterson has grown increasingly vocal in his criticism of Utah’s response to the pandemic, an effort that was officially headed by Cox.
Those criticisms have included the lack of political courage to make proactive decisions like a statewide mask mandate, fiscal mismanagement and cronyism in the awarding of state contracts. In recent weeks, a report from the state auditor has confirmed some of those missteps.
While Cox’ support has at least flattened in the past month, the number of likely voters favoring Peterson has jumped from 19 percent to 26 percent.
That change closely matches the decline in undecided voters in the past month, a category that shrank to 16 percent in recent polling from 22 percent in September.
The Peterson campaign sees those poll results as proof of growing political momentum.
Political observers also question whether the latest Rasmussen polling, which took place between Oct. 12 and 17, fully reflects voter concerns about the most recent pandemic developments.
On Oct. 13, Gov. Gary Herbert acknowledged that Utah’s skyrocketing COVID-19 statistics were “unsustainable,” only to see those upward trends continue.
Another 1,168 new COVID-19 cases were reported Monday by the Utah Department of Health.
Since Oct. 12, slightly more than 14 percent of all COVID-19 tests administered in the state were found to be positive, the highest rate in seven months of battling the pandemic. In the same period, the state’s seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases has been 1,233 a day, another record high.
As of Monday, there have been nearly 100,000 Utahns infected with the virus and at least 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 16 of the past 19 days in October.
The latest Rasmussen polling data is based on a survey of 1,000 likely Utah voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.