Exclusive Poll: Herbert, Lee Enjoying High Approval Ratings

Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is the most popular major politician in the state, a new UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates finds.

And U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who was in real trouble in the polls just a year ago, has rebounded.

In fact, while it is bad news for veteran U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Lee now has lower negative ratings than does Hatch – which must be a really unwelcomed statistic for Hatch, who has been in the Senate for 38 years.


Here are some of the numbers (a mean score balances favorable with unfavorable ratings, the lower the mean score, the better it is for the officeholder):

— Herbert, 71 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of the governor, 21 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the job he’s doing, 5 percent have heard of Herbert, but have no opinion, and 2 percent have never heard of Herbert.

Herbert’s mean score: 1.94.

— Lee, 56 percent have a favorable opinion, 30 percent have an unfavorable opinion, 8 percent heard of him but no opinion, 5 percent never heard of Lee.

Lee’s mean score: 2.27.

— Hatch, 57 percent have a favorable opinion, 38 percent an unfavorable opinion, 4 percent heard of Hatch, but no opinion, 1 percent never heard of him.

Hatch’s mean score: 2.37.

— Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, 37 percent have a favorable opinion, 21 percent an unfavorable opinion, 24 percent have heard of Hughes but have no opinion, 19 percent have never heard of Hughes.

Hughes’ mean score: 2.40.

— Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, 37 percent have a favorable opinion, 15 percent have an unfavorable opinion, 24 percent have heard of Niederhauser but have no opinion, 24 percent have never heard of him.

Niederhauser’s mean score: 2.27.

— Attorney General Sean Reyes, 57 percent have a favorable opinion, 15 percent an unfavorable, 16 percent have heard of him but have no opinion, 12 percent have never heard of Reyes.

Reyes’ mean score: 1.98.

— Republicans in the 2015 Legislature (they are the majority party), 56 percent have a favorable opinion, 27 have an unfavorable opinion, 9 percent have heard of the GOP Legislature but no opinion, 7 percent have never heard of the Republicans in the Legislature.

GOP Legislature mean score: 2.31.

— Democrats in the Utah Legislature, 44 percent have a favorable opinion, 28 percent have an unfavorable opinion, 17 percent have heard of the Democrats in the Legislature, but no opinion, 12 percent never heard of them.

Legislative Democrats’ mean score: 2.36.

Historically, Utahns have liked their top officeholders.

And Hatch and various GOP governors have seen their favorability ratings in the 70s percentile in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

To have only a 57 percent favorability rating is a poor showing for Hatch, when compared with some of his ratings in the past.

No doubt this high unfavorability rating for Hatch comes for several reasons:

— Americans, including Utahns, really dislike the job Congress is doing. While Utahns may really hate Democrats in Congress and President Barack Obama, it is clear from some of the recent Jones polling Utahns are beginning to dislike the job that Republican members of Congress from Utah are doing these days.

(UtahPolicy and Jones didn’t measure Utah’s four congresspeoples’ favorabilities, the sample in each district would have been too small for a fair accounting.)

— Hatch, Utah’s longest-serving federal official ever, said in his 2012 re-election that he wouldn’t run again in 2018, but retire.

However, Hatch has been making noises recently that he may run again if, as the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he can’t get the tax reform and other issues solved by 2018.

Hatch’s time in Congress was an election issue in 2012, and would be even more of a detriment to him should he say he’s running again.

Hatch was forced into a GOP primary in 2012 by little-known state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

Who knows how many credible Republican challengers Hatch would have in 2018 if he breaks his promise and runs again?

Historically, Utahns have swung in favor of a long-time officeholder who announces his retirement several years before his final term ends, but clearly Hatch is not getting that “retirement” bounce yet, Jones’ latest numbers show.

The new numbers are good news for Lee, whose favorability ratings were below 50 percent over the last several years. Lee faces his first re-election in 2016.

Lee was blamed nationally, and locally, for his part in the October 2013 shutdown of the federal government.

Lee was one of the darlings of the Tea Party movement, which has been waning in Utah over the last few years.

Lee and his political advisors have been making a concerted effort to rehabilitate the senator’s public image over the last 12 months.

And the new poll shows Lee’s efforts are succeeding.

As would be expected, Herbert, Lee, and Hatch do better in the ratings among those who said they are Republicans.

But Hatch trails even there.

In favorable-to-unfavorable matchups, it is:

— Herbert, 85-8 percent among Republicans, a mean score of 1.60.

— Lee, 73-14 percent among the GOP, a mean score of 1.77.

— Hatch, 74-22 percent among Republicans, a mean score of 2.00.

So even among Republicans, more than a fifth have an unfavorable opinion of Hatch.

Finally, the new polling shows that even though new House Speaker Hughes was pounded in the media (for a while during the 45-day general session) over holding up Herbert’s Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion bill, in the end Hughes is not well known by many Utahns, nor disliked.

Hughes’ unfavorable rating of 21 percent is still lower than the legislative Republicans’ 27 percent unfavorable.

While Niederhauser’s unfavorable of 15 percent shows, the Senate president stayed out of a controversy in the last session.