This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Mitt Romney's name won't be on the fall ballot, but he's likely to get some write-in votes in Utah, and Jon Huntsman might, too. The two former governors remain wildly popular at a time when most of the state's voters look at the current presidential candidates with disdain.
A poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that Romney and Huntsman had approval ratings of 71 percent. In contrast, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, was seen favorably by 40 percent of likely voters and Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, by 28 percent.
"Utahns know Romney and Huntsman like they have never known another presidential contender," said Kirk Jowers, the former director of the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah. "It is absolutely no surprise that their numbers may actually be going up ... because their presidential campaigns now look exponentially better in light of Trump and Clinton."
Romney, who has said he won't vote for Trump or Clinton, did not respond to a request for comment, while Huntsman, who plans to cast a ballot for the Republican nominee, said the poll shouldn't be "taken too seriously," since it is just a snapshot of public sentiment.
"But I do believe Utah voters prize two things bipartisan problem solving and the delivery of tangible results," he said. "We tried very hard to make both a hallmark of our efforts as governor."
Huntsman also attributed part of Clinton's and Trump's unpopularity in Utah and throughout the nation to a "highly toxic all-politics-all-the-time environment."
"There's a hopeless feeling that politics no longer works for the people, and our nation's most basic priorities are being forsaken in the name of hyper-partisanship."
Huntsman and Romney were rivals during the 2012 GOP primaries. Romney prevailed, and the two are not close to this day.
Huntsman, 56, was a popular governor in Utah who left in 2009 to serve as the ambassador to China under President Barack Obama and Clinton, who then was secretary of state.
Romney, 69, became a nationally known figure while leading the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and then was elected Massachusetts governor before running for the White House. He now calls Utah home, though his days of seeking political office appear to be over.
"Romney seems pretty content being a Republican thought leader and a statesman, while Huntsman, being more than a decade younger, could still leave a mark in politics either here in Utah or trying again on the national scene," said Jowers, who has worked for both men.
Huntsman has said he has "one more run" in him and is often mentioned as a potential candidate for the Senate in 2018 for the seat now held by longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
A deeper look at the poll shows how these political heavyweights have different pockets of strength among Utah's electorate.
Romney received more fervent support, earning an overall 42 percent "very favorable" rating in the survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates in mid-September. Huntsman logged 31 percent in that category.
Women gave Romney higher marks than men, and he did better among voters 35 to 44 years old than any other age group.
Huntsman had more consistent support. His "very favorable" numbers hovered in the low 30s and his "somewhat favorable" responses were mostly in the 40s for almost every category.
The big differences came in the partisan breakdown. Both did well with Republicans 79 percent viewed Romney favorably and 68 percent approved of Huntsman.
Huntsman captured unusually high numbers with Utah Democrats. He received an 85 percent approval rating from those who identify with Utah's minority party, while Romney netted a respectable 48 percent.
Huntsman's high marks surprised Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon, particularly because of the flat tax the Republican championed as governor, which Democrats blame for stunting education funding. Still, Corroon called Huntsman "a very moderate and likable person."
The Tribune-Hinckley poll took place before Huntsman explained why he plans to vote for Trump, a move that immediately sparked outrage among Utah Democrats.
"I still don't understand why he supported Trump," Corroon said. "I think that was a mistake."
Huntsman told The Tribune he's voting for Trump because he believes the billionaire businessman is most likely to boost the economy, revamp the tax code and push for changes in campaign-finance laws. He would nominate more conservative Supreme Court justices and be more likely to allow states to take the lead on issues such as education.
"I'm afraid Clinton is too prone to solve things first out of Washington," Huntsman said, while adding he has "fundamental philosophical differences on a range of issues" with Trump.
Romney famously called the Republican nominee a "con man" and a "fraud" in a speech sponsored by the Hinckley Institute before Trump locked up the party's nomination. Romney hasn't announced if he will vote for a third-party candidate, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson or independent Evan McMullin, or if he will write in a name.
Corroon gave Romney credit for seeing Trump as "a snake oil salesman pretty clearly," but Jowers isn't so sure Huntsman's vote for Trump would hurt him in Utah in the long run.
"He will have more latitude than almost any Republican to support Trump," said Jowers, a Republican. "Huntsman was obviously intimately involved with Secretary Clinton as ambassador to China. He knows better than anyone the damage she could do to America's foreign policy."
The poll found Trump beating Clinton by 9 percentage points, 34 percent to 25 percent, in Utah.
Johnson had 13 percent and McMullin 12 percent. Nearly one in 10 (8 percent) of likely Utah voters plan to write in a name.
The survey was conducted from Sept. 12 to 19 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points
Editor's note: The owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune is Paul Huntsman, who is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr.