Evan McMullin reacts to poll that shows him in virtual tie with Clinton, Trump in Utah

Posted at 7:36 AM, Oct 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-12 23:36:12-04

SALT LAKE CITY - BYU graduate and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin is suddenly surging in the polls in Utah.

"I guess I'm surprised it happened so quickly," McMullin admitted as he stepped in front of cameras in Salt Lake City Wednesday.

Y2 Analytics, a public opinion research company based out of Salt Lake, released 15 pages of data it collected from 500 Utah residents. Based on previous voting history, those 500 voters are among the most likely to vote in the upcoming race.

The results show that 26 percent of Utahns plan to vote for Trump, and 26 percent plan to vote for Hillary Clinton. However, the biggest surprise is that McMullin polled at 22 percent.

"People are surprised to see McMullin's numbers, and, to be frank, I'm among them," said Scott Riding, an analytics partner for Y2. "But we went back and looked and he had been steadily gaining and just put himself in a good position when that Trump bubble burst."

The bubble Riding refers to is the release of NBC's Access Hollywood video from 2005 that emerged last Friday, showing Trump making comments about grabbing and kissing women without their consent.

"We're finding that conservatives, faced with the reality that Donald Trump has some character flaws that make him unfit for the presidency, are choosing to vote for the only person on the conservative ticket," McMullin said. "Our strategy is to deny Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump enough votes in the electoral college. If Utahns choose me, they could block both candidates and then the election would go to the House of Representatives."

And it seems as though much of the momentum in the state has shifted towards making that a possibility, albeit a slim one. McMullin's popularity is somewhat of a surprise, considering only 52 percent of Utahns even know who he is.

The table could be set for an explosive next few weeks. Tim Chambless, assistant professor at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said if Mitt Romney comes out in support of someone soon, the whole state could shift enough to give Democrats their first win in the state since 1964.

"If he makes it known how he would vote, not for Trump, not for Hillary, then you would see a soft 15-20 percent margin that Donald has right now moving in the direction of wherever Mitt Romney says he is going to vote," Chambless said.