Sen. Lee’s Poll Numbers Show Continued Improvement

Well, Mike Lee is almost there.

And who would have thought it just a year ago?

A new UtahPolicy poll shows that Utah’s freshman GOP U.S. senator has a 47 percent “naked re-elect” number.

That doesn’t mean nearly half of Utah voters want Lee to run again in 2016 naked. Lord forbid.

No, it means when asked if Lee should run for re-election or is it time to give someone new a chance to serve (no named opponent matched against him), 47 percent said Lee should “definitely” or “probably” run again.

As pollster Dan Jones, of Dan Jones & Associates, says, an incumbent wants to have at least a 50 percent naked re-elect number, preferably higher. Naked re-elect numbers are often lower than poll numbers matching an incumbent against a real, flesh-and-blood challenger.

So Lee, who made himself a darling of the Tea Party when he helped unseat incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in the 2010 state Republican Convention, still has a bit of a way to go.

But considering his poor job approval ratings of just a year ago, Lee has made a considerable come back.

Lee stumbled badly when he took some credit for shutting down the federal government a year ago last fall – costing Utah and other states considerable money.

And, as a previous Dan Jones’ poll showed, Lee’s unfavorable ratings are now lower than long-time U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch’s.

That’s saying something – about both senators.

Thus, Lee must be pleased with Jones’ newest poll numbers.

Jones polled 803 registered Utah voters statewide from May 4-12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.

Jones finds:

— Among all voters, 47 percent said Lee should be re-elected; 43 percent said someone new should serve; and 10 percent didn’t know.

— Among Republican voters, 64 percent said re-elect Lee; 22 percent said let someone else serve; and 10 percent didn’t know.

— Among Democratic voters, 14 percent said Lee should be re-elected; 80 percent said elect someone new; and 6 percent didn’t know.

— Among those who said they are political independents (belong to no party); 34 percent said re-elect Lee; 56 percent said elect someone else; and 10 percent didn’t know.

Lee still has some work to do. While this poll (and others) show Lee has much recovered from the dislike many Utah voters had of Lee 18 months and a year ago, Jones finds he is still struggling among independent voters.

While Utah is a very red state, most statewide candidates need some independent voters to win.

It’s generally accepted that a non-incumbent GOP challenger and/or a Democrat needs at least 60 percent of the independent vote to win a statewide election or a U.S. House race.

Lee is teetering on the negative edge of that number in this naked re-elect survey.

It must be said that any credible GOP statewide U.S. Senate candidate will win in Utah against a Democrat – even a well-funded and generally liked Democrat.

Utah has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

Lee’s problem is more likely to be a challenge from a moderate Republican who takes the petition-gathering route to the 2016 GOP primary ballot.

And Lee was considered vulnerable in that aspect a year ago.

But then a number of high-profile former GOP candidates – like former governors Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mike Leavitt – said they would not run for the Senate in 2016.

It may be that both men – popular with moderates in their own party and with voters in general – will look at the 2018 open U.S. Senate race here, with Hatch promising to retire then. A number of other candidates will also join the race if the seat is open.

And Lee watched as second-tier GOP hopefuls Josh Romney, son of Mitt Romney, and former GOP chairman Thomas Wright both took themselves out of the 2016 U.S Senate race, as well.

Currently, Lee has no announced GOP or Democratic challenger. There doesn’t even appear to be a serious challenger on the horizon – although that could always change.

It is getting late in the fund raising cycle for someone without personal money to spend to challenge Lee.

That’s a poor comment on Utah and U.S. political campaigning – but there it is.

Any GOP challenger to Lee has little hope of success if a federal court judge overturns SB54’s petition-gathering candidate path to the 2016 GOP primary ballot.

Delegates likely love Lee even more than rank-and-file Republican voters – and would be quick to re-nominate him.

Jones finds that among “very conservative” voters, 77 percent say re-elect Lee; 13 percent said someone new should serve; and 10 percent didn’t know.

State Republican delegates, elected by GOP caucus-goers, are generally more conservative.

So Lee has a large following, the new poll shows, among the group delegates usually belong to.

Among those who said they are “somewhat conservative,” 63 percent said re-elect Lee; 28 percent said elect someone new; and 9 percent didn’t know.

The tide turns on Lee with those who said they are “moderate” on the political scale; only 33 percent support Lee; 53 percent said elect someone new; and 12 percent didn’t know.