Herbert Sitting Pretty Ahead of 2016…But It’s Still Early

Longtime Utah pollster Dan Jones has conducted four polls over the last several months all aimed at measuring Utah voters and state Republican delegates.

In a UtahPolicy interview, Jones said he couldn’t name who paid for the surveys.


“But I believe the data should get out there” in the public domain, said Jones, who has been Utah’s leading pollster for more than 40 years.

As reported previously in UtahPolicy, the surveys’ questions included head-to-head match-ups for a possible GOP gubernatorial intra-party battle in 2016.

Those named in the poll questions were Gov. Gary Herbert; Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo; Utah House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper; and Jonathan Johnson, the president of Overstock.com, an online discount retailer headquartered in Utah.

Johnson is pushing a religious freedom state constitutional amendment that likely will be voted on in the 2014 Legislature, now just several weeks away.

(Editor’s note: Overstock.com is a sponsor of UtahPolicy.)

The four surveys were taken Oct 7-20 (412 registered voters); two from Oct. 17-25 (one of active voters, 1,259, another of GOP state delegates, 816); and from Dec. 5-16 (516 registered voters).

The results show that Herbert is 1) well-liked with good job approval ratings and 2) sitting in a fine position two-and-a-half years out from the 2016 gubernatorial election.

Herbert “seems to be the most popular of all of our Republican incumbents” when the congressional and U.S. Senate members are included, said Jones.

“When a (GOP) governor is above 50 percent approval rating, he is very hard to beat,” said Jones. “Usually our governors run (and win) with approval ratings between 60 percent and 70 percent,” Jones added.

Of course, Herbert is much better known to Utahns than are Lockhart, Hughes and Johnson.

And, indeed, other Republicans could well get in the 2016 GOP gubernatorial race.

It is still early by Utah standards to even be seriously talking about 2016.

But it doesn’t hurt Herbert to be sitting so well, so early.

Incumbent governors traditionally don’t have a hard time raising campaign funds; these early numbers can only help Herbert’s fund raising efforts over the next two years.

And they should put Herbert’s mind at rest, as some party insiders like to threaten incumbents with possible challenges.

Some of the numbers:

Herbert’s job approval ratings among Utahns are good – measured at between 76 percent favorable to 60 percent favorable.

But they are not stratospheric, as have some other governor’s numbers been over the last 20 years.

Several former Utah GOP governors have hit in the 80th percentiles favorable ratings.

In fact, Herbert’s high of 76 percent in early October fell off by 16 percentage points to just 60 percent in early December.

There are no clear reasons for this, although some Utahns may have really liked how Herbert handled the partial government shutdown in September – spending state money to open several national parks so nearby local economies wouldn’t suffer.

GOP Attorney General John Swallow resigned in disgrace in early December, and maybe some of that displeasure rubbed off on Herbert (the governor never called for Swallow to resign, although Herbert did criticize some of Swallow’s actions.)

GOP state delegates like Herbert better than do regular Utahns. Jones’ survey shows that 86 percent of delegates approve of the job Herbert is doing.

It should be noted that come 2016 there will be a new crop of GOP delegates than today’s.

And if the Count My Vote citizen initiative passes this year, GOP delegates won’t even get to vote on candidates in 2016 – all qualified candidates will go to the party primary ballot.

Herbert stomps all three potential challenges in head-to-head match-ups.

The governor gets about 70 percent of the general voters, with Lockhart coming in at 13 percent, Hughes at 10 percent and Johnson at 8 percent.

Around 20 percent of the voters are undecided in those match-ups, Jones found.

Among the 816 GOP state delegates polled, Herbert does even better. He gets between 73 percent and 80 percent of the delegate support in the three match-ups.

Lockhart gets 15 percent, Hughes gets 6 percent and Johnson only 4 percent.

But, again, there will be new delegates come 2016. And even that crop of around 4,000 may never get to vote on the GOP gubernatorial candidates. (UtahPolicy publisher LaVarr Webb is a CMV board member.)

Under current GOP state convention rules, if a candidate gets more than 60 percent of the delegate vote, he is automatically the party’s nominee and no primary is held.

Herbert 60-percented his GOP challengers in the 2012 State Republican Convention.

Herbert has not yet said whether he will run for a third time in 2016.

While only two other men have ever been elected three times as governor – former governors Cal Rampton and Mike Leavitt – should Herbert run and win again his tenure won’t be 12 years.

Herbert had to run in 2010 to serve out the final two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who resigned to become U.S. ambassador China.

In 2012 Herbert had to run again to gain his own four-year term.

So if he runs in 2016 Herbert will actually only be seeking his second four-year term.

Utah has no term limits for state officers.

Johnson, UtahPolicy is told, seriously considered getting into the 2012 governor’s race, but ultimately decided to wait.

Lockhart is retiring from the House the end of 2014. That will give her two years to fund raise and separate herself from majority Republican state political decisions, if she choses to do so.

Hughes tells UtahPolicy that he has no plans now to run for higher office, although he has proven to be a tough, hardnosed politician who has had to work hard in several of his Draper-based state House races.

Hughes is chairman of the Utah Transit Authority board of directors and has pushed Utah’s conservative Republicans toward favorable mass transit policies.

Democrats have no announced 2016 gubernatorial candidates, although it is generally assumed that U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, decided to retire from his 4th District this year to prepare himself for some statewide race in 2016.

Matheson only recently announced his U.S. House retirement and wasn’t included in Jones’ polls.