Nineteen days ago I wondered in this space why the competitive-in-Utah independent conservative Evan McMullin was only being polled in two of the 11 states in which his name appears on the presidential ballot (Virginia being the other). Some of those polities, after all, are key battlegrounds where Hillary Clinton and the McMullin-damaging Donald Trump are running very close to one another.
Since then, the former CIA agent and Goldman Sachs investment banker has appeared on polls in an additional four states, and there is one inescapable if preliminary conclusion: McMullin is only a meaningful factor in regions where his fellow Mormons live.
In his native state of Utah, for example, McMullin has appeared on 11 polls, averaging 22 percent, including 30 percent over the most recent five since mid-October. FiveThirtyEight gives the previously unknown candidate “an 18 to 25 percent chance of winning the state,” which would be a historical milestone not seen since 1968, leaving open the still-remote possibility that 100 other things could break his way and McMullin would magically end up president. And in the second-largest Mormon state of Idaho (estimated LDS population: 19%), he has racked up a couple of 10 percent poll showings as well, compared to Libertarian Gary Johnson’s 5 percent in those same surveys. But as I wrote here last week, the independent’s Idaho success is largely attributable to local Mormons, of whom one in three back their co-religionist.
The other three states, however, look grim. Minnesota, as mentioned here, featured its first McMullin poll last week, and he received just 1 percent, tied with Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and far behind Gary Johnson’s 6. Then this week, Colorado, which has a bazillion names on the ballot (no really, besides the leading five candidates there’s also Darrell Castle, Gloria Estela La Riva, Rocky De La Fuente, Alyson Kennedy, Laurence Kotlikoff, Frank Atwood, Jim Hedges, Tom Hoefling, Chris Keniston, Kyle Kenley Koptike, Bradford Lyttle, Joseph A. Maldonado, Michael Maturen, Ryan Alan Scott, Rod Silva, Mike Smith, and Emidio Soltysik), had its first McMullinized poll, and it, too, came in at a desultory 1 percent, behind Stein’s 2 percent Johnson’s 7. Colorado, like Johnson’s home state of New Mexico—where McMullin is on the ballot but not yet being polled—is A) adjacent to Utah, and B) home to a 2 percent Mormon population. Any theory of McMullinmentum has to show signs of life in the Rocky Mountain State, and so far there aren’t any.
Kentucky also came on the board this week, and McMullin’s still stuck at 1 percent there, though at least (from his point of view) he has company in Stein and Johnson, the latter of whom is usually at around 4 in the Bluegrass State. Even in Virginia, which features both a 2 percent Mormon population and a not-insubstantial CIA personnel and a bunch of Beltway types more favorable toward McMullinite manners than the vulgarities of Donald Trump, Bill Kristol’s last, best hope averages just 2 percent in the 8 polls on which he has appeared.
None of this is to say that McMullin can’t influence this race in surprising ways. Iowa is still neck-and-neck, and even a 1 percent showing there could help tip things toward Clinton, give that a preponderance of his support comes from self-identified Republicans and conservatives. McMullin’s success among Mormon populations could prove the largest factor driving Gary Johnson below the significant 5 percent threshold. Even his absence on a ballot, such as his gratuitous stiffarming in Florida, could prove the decisive parliamentary path-clearing for Donald Trump in an always critical state.
But as things currently stand, and in the absence of polling to the contrary, Evan McMullin just does not look positioned to somehow rebuild the shook-up GOP in his decidedly Marco Rubioesque image. He looks like a guy polling well among an interestingly disgruntled, regionally clustered religious minority. That may be enough to win one state, while salving some open wounds among Washington’s suddenly alienated Republican elite, but it leaves the future of the Republican Party just as confused as it ever was.