Two internal polls from Lee and McMullin camps tell different stories about Utah’s senate race

Sep 8, 2022, 1:45 PM | Updated: 7:22 pm
Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin are pictured: (Ivy Ceballo and Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Ivy Ceballo and Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Who’s ahead in Utah’s senate race between Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin? At this early juncture, two polls from inside each of the campaigns tell different stories.

An internal poll from Sen. Mike Lee’s campaign sent to KSL NewsRadio shows he’s up 18 points on McMullin. The poll shows Lee with 50% of likely voter support, compared to McMullin with 32%.

But a separate internal poll made public from the McMullin campaign shows Mcmullin is leading by one percentage point, with McMullin earning 47% likely voter support compared to Lee’s 46%.

Both polls surveyed likely voters, as opposed to registered voters.

Likely voters are just that, people who are considered more likely to vote in a general election. Registered voters may be registered but not necessarily likely to vote.

The differences in polling

The McMullin poll was taken more recently, between August 29 and September 1, 2022.

It also surveyed more people, 800, compared to Lee’s 500. Lee’s poll was done between August 4 and 5, 2022.

McMullin’s poll, as it states, looked at how people would vote if the Utah senate race is a 2-way race. There are 6 candidates running for the office, meaning some of the votes will not go to either McMullin or Lee.

External poll

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll published July 20 found that Lee received 41% of respondents’ votes while McMullin received 36%. This poll surveyed 801 registered voters in Utah between July 13 and July 18.

The poll used a different methodology than Lee’s and McMullin’s polls, as it polled registered voters instead of likely voters.

Methodology matters

McMullin’s poll was also a multi-modal poll meaning it could have been conducted via texts, phone calls, and online, whereas Lee’s was just done by phone, according to the methodology given by both independent pollsters.

The Academic Director at the Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service, Leah Murray says the methodology could be part of the reason the two polls are so different.

“If I’m only calling people on the phone, then I’m usually generally only talking to older voters because these are the humans [who] are answering phone calls,” she said.

But with a multi-modal approach, Murray said it’s more likely younger voters were contacted since they respond better to texts or emails.

“Young voters don’t vote as much, so then it really relies on how I figure out whether that 22-year-old is actually a likely voter or not in my ability to predict what’s going to happen in November.”

Trusting internal polling

Murray also said while polling numbers are very important, internal pollsters might have an incentive to tell the candidate what they want to hear because they’re being paid to do the poll.

“It can give us an idea of what’s happening…I’ve got an idea [from this polling] that this is an exciting race in a way I didn’t expect it to [be], but it’s not a prediction of what the result will be in November,” she said.

The candidates react

McMullin took to Twitter to say he was leading in the race.

A statement from Lee’s campaign called it McMullin’s latest attempt to breathe life into a campaign.

“Our latest internal polling shows Senator Lee with a large (18-point) lead among likely voters. This isn’t surprising because he has been clear about where he stands in supporting Utahns. Mr. McMullin’s latest poll, published by Joe Biden’s pollster, is nowhere near our numbers. Unsurprisingly he hasn’t published his methodology before quickly going public with his numbers. It’s his latest attempt to breathe life into a campaign that hasn’t been resonating with Utahns.”

Related: Utah Debate Commission announces dates for general election debates

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Two internal polls from Lee and McMullin camps tell different stories about Utah’s senate race