Yesterday brought the second great Utah poll result in two days for independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin: Third-place, at 20 percent, more than double up on Gary Johnson (9 percent), within striking distance of Hillary Clinton (28 percent), and certainly with better trend lines than the Mormon-repulsing Donald Trump (34 percent).
While this represents the first Monmouth University presidential survey of the Beehive State, and therefore comes without any comparative data (as did Wednesday’s Y2 Analytics poll), Monmouth gets an A+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, and the anecdotal is combining with the statistical to produce unmistakable McMullinmentum. Analysts are writing pieces with headlines like “How Evan McMullin Could Win Utah And the Presidency.” “I’ll make a prediction,” Dave Hansen, a political adviser to the Trump-scorning Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), told Politico Wednesday. “He’s going to win the state.”
Well, I don’t know about that; it may have just been a particularly good week to be a Mormon conservative presidential candidate who hails from Utah. But what I really don’t know is how the former CIA agent and Goldman Sachs employee, who is the favored alternative of #NeverTrump establishment figures like Bill Kristol and Rick Wilson, is shaping up to impact key battleground states such as Colorado and Iowa. That’s because, unaccountably, McMullin isn’t being polled there. Like, at all.
Take Iowa. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Iowa poll picture this morning looks like this: Donald Trump 45.9 percent, Hillary Clinton 45.9 percent, Gary Johnson 7.0 percent. Though Iowa went to Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008 by 5.9 and 9.4 percentage points, respectively, the state is widely seen as more critical for Trump’s path to the White House, especially given his current second-place status in the race. We know that Evan McMullin pulls far more heavily from Republicans and conservatives than he does Democrats (by a 3-1 margin in this Virginia poll, a 3-0 margin in this one), and we know that Iowa is one of the non-Utah states he has said he’s targeting, but we have no idea whether he’s at 0.5 percent or 5.0 percent there because not a single damned publicly available state poll has included his name. The man could be the difference in luring Iowans away from Donald Trump, yet he may never be measured before that happens. As is true for any state or national poll at this point that does not include the on-all-ballots Gary Johnson, McMullin-free polls in Iowa and other battleground/swing states cannot give an accurate picture of the presidential race, and treating them as if they do borders on journalistic malpractice.
McMullin is on the ballot of just 11 states, with a combined 84 electoral votes—far fewer than Darrell Castle‘s 24/211 and Rocky De La Feunte‘s 20/147. Like third-party candidates inevitably do, he talks up the importance of his write-in access to an additional 24, but even given that Google searches on “write-in” this week are “off the charts,” there is little historical reason to take that potential numerical impact seriously. In 2012, Gary Johnson was a write-in in Michigan, and pulled just 0.16 percent of the vote, less than one-third of his lowest total in any state where his name appeared.
Still, thanks to his friends in the GOP establishment and media, and to the depth of the #NeverTrump sentiment among some Republicans, and also to his Utah-centrism in a year that Mormons are leading the charge away from Trump, McMullin is cutting through the fog in a way that no other fifth-party candidate can approach. In a national PPP poll after the first presidential debate (one of only three such polls he has been featured in), McMullin beat out the Green Party’s Jill Stein, 2 percent to 1 percent.
But it’s on the state level where he really should be measured. FiveThirtyEight—which hastily added McMullin to its Utah page this week after his surging performance there—keeps a running ranking of states in order of their “chance of tipping” the election. His name appears on the ballot of #4 (Minnesota), #6 (Virginia), #8 (Colorado), #14 (Iowa), and #15 (New Mexico). Yet the only state outside of Utah where I could find even one poll featuring McMullin was Virginia, where he has averaged around 2 percent. (Interestingly, the Trump campaign reportedly pulled out of Virginia this week, seemingly ceding the state to Clinton.) There is every reason to believe that McMullin could register noticeable support in heavily conservative/Mormon/third-party-friendly Idaho, but that state doesn’t really have much of any polls, let alone ones featuring his name.
There are plenty of problems with the policy substance of McMullin’s presidential campaign, some of which I’ll get to here later today. But as happens with startling frequency in a country that otherwise can’t stop talking about this presidential election, the media is largely ignoring the potentially massive impact that third-party candidates could have, except during its periodic freakouts that Gary Johnson could lure unsuspecting Millennials away from their rightful role in coronating the next President Clinton. Evan McMullin is having an impact on this presidential race, and not just in Utah. With less than a month out, the political press might begin taking note.