As Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch decides whether to seek an unprecedented 8th term next year, his approval ratings in a new survey show some good news and bad news.
The good news is that he enjoys a 65 percent favorability rating among his fellow Republicans. The bad news is that Democrats give him just a 15 percent approval rating, reducing his overall approval rating below 50 percent, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.
Hatch, 82, is considering running for re-election in 2018 and is receiving support to do so from many prominent Utahns. In his 2012 campaign, he said he would retire after his current – 7th – term in office.
In the survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, Hatch receives an overall 46 percent favorable rating. In general, U.S. senators and representatives want to have more than half of their adult constituents giving them a favorable rating.
However, approval ratings aren’t always predictors of success in elections or effectiveness in governing. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump suffered from low approval ratings throughout the campaign, and a new Quinnipiac University Poll released on Tuesday shows him with only a 37 percent approval rating as he enters office. Pres. Barack Obama exits the White House with an approval rating of 55 percent.
One sign that Hatch is likely to run again is that a number of opinion essays written by prominent Utahns are appearing in news outlets praising Hatch and encouraging him to seek another term. Those things don’t happen spontaneously, showing that an organized effort is being made by his supporters to build momentum for another Hatch run.
Utahns (in part because of their generally kind nature) historically have given their officeholder’s relatively high favorable ratings.
For example, a few previous governors have had favorability ratings in the 70th percentile, even above 80 percent.
And, indeed, back in the 1980s and 1990s Hatch saw favorable ratings in the 60th and 70th percentiles.
In the new survey, 22 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” opinion of Hatch, with 25 percent saying they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of him.
Six percent said they had heard of Hatch but had no opinion of him, and 2 percent said they had never heard of him.
So, overall, Hatch has a 46 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable rating.
Jones points out that over the years Hatch has been more respected among his congressional colleagues and the nation’s leaders in Washington than he has been in Utah. Part of the Hatch’s challenge is likely the simple fact that he has been in office so many years in an era when citizens want change.
And Utahns, like other Americans, have become generally disgusted with Congress and Washington politicians – which doesn’t help Hatch at home.
While Hatch may be seen as a power-broker in Washington today, especially so as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and an ally of incoming GOP President Donald Trump, he’s been in the U.S. Senate since January 1977 – and in the majority party on and off for the past 40 years.
It is hard to defend the actions of an unpopular Congress over those years.
In any case, should he decide to run again, Hatch would have to be considered the favorite to win, in large part that’s because Utah is so Republican. And the Count My Vote/SB54 compromise would allow Hatch to get on the Republican 2018 primary ballot via signature gathering, without the help of the archconservative state GOP delegates at the convention.
65 percent of Utah Republicans have a favorable opinion of Hatch; only 31 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.
Among those who told Jones they are “very conservative” politically – the segment of Utah Republicans most likely to be a 2018 state GOP delegate – 54 percent have a favorable opinion of Hatch; 44 percent are unfavorable.
Those who said they are Tea Party followers are even worse: Only 40 percent like Hatch; 56 percent don’t.
So you can see that Hatch does much better among all Utah Republicans than he does among the archconservatives, i.e. the party stalwarts.
And right now, Hatch would need to depend on the so-called “regular” Utah Republicans to put him back in office.
Only 15 percent of Utah Democrats have a favorable opinion of Hatch; 77 percent disapprove of him.
Only 36 percent of Utah political independents (who don’t belong to any political party) have a favorable opinion of Hatch; 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.
In 2010, the height of the Tea Party movement, the late-U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was kicked out of office in the state GOP convention.
Fearing a similar action against him in 2012, Hatch and his campaign manager Dave Hansen spent several million dollars recruiting Hatch supporters to run for, and win, GOP state delegate slots.
It was an impressive effort. But, still, Hatch did not get 60 percent of the delegate vote. He was forced into a primary against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but easily beat him there and coasted to his 6th-term victory in the general election.
Such may not be the case in 2018.
Already, former chief of staff to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, Derek Miller, has said he is exploring whether to run as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Even if Hatch runs again, it’s likely other qualified Republicans will run against him (although Josh Romney, son of Mitt Romney, says he would support Hatch if he ran again).
The big unknown now is former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman. Huntsman has moved back to Utah from D.C. And he’s said he is interested in the 2018 U.S. Senate race, but claims he won’t make a decision on running until Hatch does.
Huntsman, co-chairman of the bipartisan No Labels political non-profit/make-government-work movement, could run as an independent, promising to caucus with Senate Republicans should he win.
That could be a political problem for Hatch, who could be challenged from the right in the party primary and from the middle in the general election – assuming Democrats put up a weak candidate as they certainly did in the 2016 Senate race.
Jones finds that Hatch faces an interesting gender gap right now: 52 percent of Utah men have an unfavorable opinion of Hatch; while only 43 percent of women don’t much like him.
And then there is the age thing – Hatch is now 82. He would be 84 when he runs in two years, and 90 years old at the end of his 7th term, should he win in 2018. Hatch says he’s in fine shape, physically and mentally, and is energized and excited about the challenges ahead.
Jones polled 614 Utahns from Dec. 8-12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.