Analysis: Mike Lee Has Time on His Side

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

Mike Lee should be very glad he is a U.S. senator and not a U.S. House member.

 

Why?

Because he’s got three years to convince a number of Utah voters – even some in his own party -- that he’s not a right wing crazy who shouldn’t be trusted to help run the U.S. government.

Two relatively new polls show that Lee’s popularity/job approval ratings have dropped over our freshman senator’s strong opposition to Obamacare and support for shutting down the government, even defaulting on the U.S. debt obligations.

A KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows that Lee’s job approval ratings are at an historic low for a sitting GOP federal officeholder in Utah.

True, job approval ratings for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the three Republican congressmen – Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart – are not good by historical standards, either.

But Lee’s are markedly poor.

Among all Utahns Lee’s approval rating is 35 percent disapprove and only 42 percent approval, the KSL poll shows.

A poll conducted by a group of Brigham Young University political science professors – online at UtahDataPoints.com – shows Lee’s approval ratings at 51-40 unfavorable to favorable opinions.

Even among Republicans Lee is not nearly as well-liked as other Utah GOP senators have been.

Fifty-seven percent of Republicans approve of the job Lee is doing, but 17 percent disapprove in the KSL-TV survey.

Usually GOP senators in Utah get job approval ratings in the 70th percentile, sometimes even in the 80th percentile among all Utahns, even higher among Republicans.

Hatch, for example, suffers a bit among Republicans who likely are displeased with Congress as a whole.

Seventy-six percent of Utah Republicans approve of Hatch’s job actions; only 16 percent disapprove in the KSL poll.

Thus, Lee is 20 percentage points BELOW Hatch in approval ratings among Utah Republicans.

Among all Utahns, 55 percent of Utahns approve of the job Hatch is doing, 37 percent disapprove – or about a switch in the Lee numbers, the KSL-TV poll found.

Hatch’s job approval ratings have been in the 80th percentile at times over his long U.S. Senate career.

It’s true that only 17 percent of Republicans disapprove of Lee’s job – about the same as Hatch’s GOP disapproval rank.

But 27 percent of Utah Republicans have no opinion on Lee’s job approve, or refused to answer that question in the KSL poll.

Considering how much media attention Lee was getting over the government shutdown/debt ceiling it is hard to believe that a quarter of all Utah Republicans really have no opinion of the job Lee is doing.

The UtahDataPoints poll conducted by the BYU professors finds much the same popularity ratings for Lee as did the KSL-TV poll.

Among Republicans, Lee’s approval rating is 57 percent; his disapproval rating is 33 percent.

BYU political science professor Quin Monson believes a number of Republican/Tea Party members are “hiding” in “don’t know” job performance category in their poll’s incumbent officeholders’ category. In other words, they didn’t want to tell the UtahDataPoints pollster how they really felt about their Republican congressional members.

The UtahDataPoints poll is here.

The demographic data from the Dan Jones/KSL-TV poll was provided to UtahPolicy.com.

Lee’s poor approval/disapproval numbers mean little if he is ultimately the Utah Republican Party’s senatorial nominee in 2016.

There’s almost no chance that Lee could lose a statewide race against a Democrat. The last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in Utah was the late Frank Moss in 1970 – more than 40 years ago.

But Lee’s relative unpopularity among Republicans is a worry for him should he be challenged by a more moderate Republican in 2016; one with a lot of money and good name I.D.

Lee’s political position would be greatly harmed, also, if the Count My Vote citizen initiative passes and GOP candidates in 2016 wouldn’t have to go through the current caucus/convention system, which saw Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, dumped in convention in 2010.

A moderate Republican likely wouldn’t beat Lee in convention, but would have shot in a 2016 GOP primary – if these latest poor poll numbers for Lee hold up over the next three years.