Poll Shows Owens Needs to Follow Matheson Playbook in Order to Beat Love

Mia Love and Doug Owens (Photo from KSL.com)

If you are an independent voter or a moderate Republican, Doug Owens wants to talk to you.


A new Zions Bank/UtahPolicy poll conducted by Dan Jones and the Cicero Group shows that Democrat Owens needs more than a few of those voters to beat Republican Mia Love in the 4thCongressional District this November.

In the first independent poll this year in the highly-contested Utah 4th, it’s clear that Owens must put together the same kind of bipartisan coalition Jim Matheson has if he is to be successful in replacing the retiring moderate Democrat – who surprised Utah’s political establishment last December when he announced he would be leaving the U.S. House after 12 years.

Several weeks ago Owens released his own internal poll that showed him only 9 percentage points behind Love.

The UtahPolicy poll, sponsored by Zions Bank, shows a larger margin – 12 percentage points – for Love, 44-32 percent.

Jones found that 19 percent of the voters are undecided. The poll is of 443 “likely voters” in the 4th district, taken Aug. 7-9, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.64 percent.

Love refuses to release her own polling. Monday morning she told KSL Radio’s Doug Wright that her polls show her “up to 20 points” ahead of Owens.

Internal cross tabs (as they are known in the business) in the Zions Bank/UtahPolicy survey, that have not been seen by the public – and are detailed in this story — show Owens still has a chance to defeat Love, if only he can get more independent and moderate Republican votes.

Owens “has to get the independent voters,” said Jones, who has polled in Utah for more than 40 years.

“But that will be difficult, because (President Barack) Obama is unpopular here,” said Jones.

Owens has to “build up” his turn out the vote ground game, said Jones.

Still, if Owens can get more independent votes and turn out his supporters this November, “It could be a tight race,” Jones added.

Jones also asked the hypothetical question pitting Matheson against Love this year.

And by comparing the two questions’ cross tabs, one can see where Matheson, who leads Love 45-39 percent in a direct head-to-head, is stronger than Owens, and where Owens needs to make up some ground on Love.

Political junkies love these kinds of analyses, and UtahPolicy is pleased to provide them.

Here are some comparisons the survey finds:

— In the head-to-head match-up between Matheson, the Democrat, and Love, the Republican, Matheson gets 19 percent of the GOP vote.

Love gets 66 percent.

— But in the Owens-Love head-to-head match-up, Owens gets only 6 percent of the Republican vote.

Love gets 73 percent.

Clearly, Owens has to get more GOP votes in November to have a chance in the 4th District, which leans Republican in its voting patterns.

— Jones found that in the Matheson-Love match-up, Matheson gets 58 percent of the independent vote.

Love gets only 23 percent.

— In the Owens-Love match-up, Owens gets 40 percent.

Love gets 29 percent.

Again, in this critical area – the independent voter who does not affiliate with either political party – Owens has to do better to have a chance.

One would expect both Matheson and Owens to do well among Democrats. And they do.

Matheson gets 91 percent of the Democratic vote; Owens gets 84 percent.

But there aren’t enough Democratic voters in the 4th District to ensure an Owens’ victory, even if he gets the lion’s share of them.

Owens does have a chance at some GOP votes, however.

— Jones found that Love, who is considered an archconservative based on her views in the 2012 election, gets only two-thirds of the GOP votes in a match-up with Matheson, who is considered a moderate-to-conservative Democrat.

— However, matched against Owens, Love gets more of her party’s vote – 73 percent of the Republican vote.

— Love gets only 23 percent of the independent vote against Matheson; she gets 29 percent of the independent vote against Owens.

OK, now let’s look at political philosophy as opposed to party affiliation.

— As one would expect, Love does very well among those who consider themselves “very conservative.”

She gets 75 percent of that vote against Matheson, 78 percent against Owens.

But then she begins to fall off against Matheson.

— In a Matheson-Love match-up, Matheson gets 36 percent of the “somewhat conservative” vote to Love’s 50 percent.

— And, this is key to an Owens’ victory, Matheson gets 63 percent of the “moderate” vote compared to Love’s 16 percent.

— Owens gets just 39 percent of the “moderate” vote to Love’s 24 percent.

— Owens gets just 14 percent of the “somewhat conservative” vote to Love’s 59 percent.

Matheson gets 22 percentage points more from the “somewhat conservative” vote compared to Owens’.

Matheson gets 24 percentage points more from the “moderate” vote than does Owens.


— In almost every category of voter preference, Owens has many more “don’t knows” or “have no opinion” than does both Matheson and Love.

Actually, Love is rather well known among 4th District voters. That, of course, is due to a very public and heated race in 2012.

Tens of millions of dollars came into the 4th District race from outside groups – both for and against Matheson, for and against Love – two years ago.

GOP dignitaries came into Utah to campaign and fund raise for Love. (Matheson, like every re-election, stayed well away from national Democrats, who are generally much disliked in Utah.)

In short, Love has a perception problem. And from how Owens handled the first, and so far only, public debate with Love, he clearly wants to exploit negative perceptions about her.

Jones asked 4th District voters if they had a favorable/disfavorable impression of Love and Owens.

— Love has a 48 percent “favorable” rating. But 43 percent of district voters had an “unfavorable” opinion of her. That is not good; too high of an unfavorable rating there.

— Owens had a 32 percent “favorable” rating and a 13 percent “unfavorable.”

What is interesting is that 26 percent – one fourth of all 4th District voters – had never even heard of Doug Owens. Another 28 percent had heard of him, but had no opinion of him.

That is a huge blank slate for Owens.

And watch for Love to try to drag Owens down and paint him as a liberal Democrat, one Utahns can’t afford to send to a much-divided U.S. House.

For his part, Owens needs to reinforce Love’s negative ratings.

Matheson, of course, has already endorsed Owens.

And the current congressman – no doubt getting a bit of a boost with his retirement announcement – has a good approval rating by current standards.

Sixty percent of 4th District voters approve of the job Matheson is doing in Congress.

One-third of 4th District voters disapprove of Matheson’s job performance – and as expected by far most of them are very conservative Republicans.

So watch for Owens to tie himself closely to Matheson down the campaign stretch, and watch for Matheson (and, of course, Owens) to pound on Love.

This tactic always carries risk – by and large Utahns don’t like negative campaigning. But often negative campaigning works, it drives down your opponents’ positives and can bring questions about him or her in voters’ minds.

Utah is a heavily Republican state. But Matheson was able to hold on to his old 2ndCongressional District from 2000 to 2010 by building a solid group of voters that included independents and moderate Republicans along the eastside of Salt Lake County.

In the 2011 redistricting, the GOP-controlled Legislature took those voters away from the 2ndDistrict.

And Matheson decided to run in the newly-formed 4th District.

He barely succeeded in 2012, beating Republican Mia Love by fewer than 800 votes.

Love soon announced she would run again for the 4th District this year. And Matheson decided to retire.

Owens, oldest son of the late Wayne Owens, who held Utah’s 2nd District twice, decided to run.

The Love and Owens campaigns gave UtahPolicy the following statements:

Love: “This and other indicators show Mia in a very strong position to be the next member of Congress from the 4th District. That said, neither Mia nor the campaign are taking anything for granted. Every effort will be made to continue meeting with voters and sharing her vision of bringing fiscal sanity to the federal government.”

Owens: “This poll shows a highly competitive race. It confirms what I’m hearing as I meet with voters throughout the 4th District – they want someone who will represent their values. I am confident that as voters continue to get to know who I am and what I stand for, they will vote for me. Like Jim Matheson, I will be a strong, independent voice for Utah, and will always work to put the priorities of the hardworking families here first.”

Owens appeared on the KSL Radio Doug Wright Show Monday morning to discuss the Zions/UtahPolicy poll.

He said about the same things as he did in the statement to UtahPolicy.

Owens said that 4th District voters know Love better than they know him, “and they are not convinced” that she is the best person to serve.

Voters “don’t know me. They want to know me. And we’ll run an aggressive campaign” to show them what Owens stands for.

“We need to get the word out,” said Owens. And the new poll shows the race is winnable, he said.

Love told Wright “we are going to run a good clean positive campaign.”

She said polls mean little if your supporters don’t turn out and vote. She and her well-known campaign manager, Dave Hansen, have been working for 18 months on a “ground game” to get her voters to the ballot box.

While the Zions/UtahPolicy survey shows she is well known, Love said she knows that many people don’t know her stands on issues, and the rest of her campaign will be aimed at showing she is a regular person who will bring reasonable solutions to the “dysfunctional” Washington, D.C.