Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Lee’s Approval Ratings are Higher than Hatch’s

Who would have thought it — U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch losing some support among the “very conservative” of his state.

That’s found in a new UtahPolicy job performance poll by Dan Jones & Associates.

Hatch, first elected in 1976, is less liked among the “very conservative” than is freshman Sen. Mike Lee, finds Jones.

Lee is at the start of a popularity-rebuilding program as he gets ready for his first re-election campaign in 2016.

Depending on how one looks like it, the more moderate Hatch may be, the better off it is for all Utahns.

Lee certainly has the right wing covered. So Hatch could represent more of the state’s constituency.

Still, the new job performance numbers show that Hatch is below 50 percent job approval by all Utahns, probably for the first time in his long Senate career.

And that can’t be considered a good thing.

“Many people tell me,” said Jones, who has polled in Utah for more than 40 years, “That Sen. Hatch is much more popular in D.C. than he is in Utah.

“I think (Utahns) don’t realize how important are the positions Hatch holds in the U.S. Senate.”

Maybe Hatch should take a lesson from the late GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter – who also had troubles with his party’s right wing.

Back in 1987, Bangerter took the bold political step of suggesting major tax hikes to help public education.

It was soon labeled – accurately – as the largest tax hike in the state’s history.

And the right wing of the Utah GOP rebelled. A tax protest movement sprung up, battering Bangerter badly.

He was challenged in his re-election by the then-popular Democrat Ted Wilson. Merrill Cook jumped from the Republican Party and ran an independent campaign.

In the end, Bangerter came back from way down in the polls to sneak out a 2-percentage point victory in 1988.

But his public image was damaged, his job approval ratings way down.

So, just one year into his four-year second term, Bangerter – on the advice of his new chief of staff Bud Scruggs and others – announced he was not going to run for a third term and he would retire at the end of his second.

There were three years left in that term. But by saying he was going, and running the state well, Bangerter’s job approval ratings started to climb.

Hatch appears in the same situation.

While Hatch announced as part of his 2012 record-setting seventh U.S. Senate campaign that he would NOT run again, but retire the end of 2018, since that time Hatch has said he’ll consider breaking that pledge if he feels he has not accomplished major tax reforms as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Hatch is now three years out from 2018 – like Bangerter was in his second term – and if Hatch publicly reaffirmed that he will retire at his term’s end, no doubt he would start to climb back toward his traditional job approval ratings.

With all the dislike these days with Congress, who knows if Hatch can ever get back into the upper 60s or even 70s percentiles in approval ratings.

After all, he’s been part of a Congress that has become mistrusted by a huge majority of Americans.

And Utahns historically don’t like their congressmen as much as they’ve liked their governors.

“I really hope Hatch will get into the 60s percentile (of approval ratings) before he retires,” said Jones, who has known and worked with Hatch for decades.

I’ve been studying and writing up Dan Jones polls for 35 years, and I can’t remember a time when Hatch fell below 50 percent in job approval.

If there was one, it didn’t last long before most Utahns once again liked the job Hatch was doing in the Senate.

What’s the old saying? Familiarity breeds contempt?

And Hatch certainly is well-known in Utah – only 6 percent of Utahns had no opinion of the job Hatch is doing.

Some of the disapproval said Jones, results in the fact that Hatch has been in the Senate so long.

“Hardly a group hasn’t been affected by him in some way or another,” said Jones.

Certainly Lee (now being advised by Scruggs, who chairs his re-election campaign) has rebounded in job approval ratings over the two years.

Over the last several months, said Jones, Lee has been in the media a lot, playing up his anger over Planned Parenthood federal supports and the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.

Here are some of the raw numbers of Lee and Hatch’s job approvals:

  • 53 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the job Lee is doing in the Senate, where he is recognized as a Tea Party advocate and strong conservative.
  • 35 percent disapprove of the job Lee is doing, and 12 percent don’t know.
  • 48 percent of Utah registered voters approve of the job Hatch is doing, 46 percent disapprove and 6 percent don’t know.

Jones polled 610 registered voters from July 14-21; the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.97 percent.

As would be expected, Republicans overwhelmingly like the jobs both Lee and Hatch are doing.

  • Lee’s approval/disapproval rating among the GOP is 72-16 percent; Hatch’s is 71-24 percent.
  • Democrats dislike them both: Lee 15-74 percent; Hatch 16-80 percent.
  • Hatch’s disapproval opens up a bit among the political independents: Hatch 40-54 percent; Lee 41-48 percent.

But the real difference is seen among those who told Jones they were “very conservative” politically – the right-wing base of the Utah GOP.

  • Lee’s approval/disapproval rating among the very conservative is 74-9 percent.
  • Hatch’s is 54-43 percent, a really, really big difference.

This is not the first time that Hatch has been seen as not conservative enough for the far right-wingers.

Back in the mid-1990s I saw Hatch make one of what I consider the best speeches he’s ever delivered.

It was the state GOP convention, and right-wing delegates had just passed a resolution against the Hatch-Ted Kennedy Children’s Health Insurance Progam or CHIP.

It was, and is, an entitlement program to provide health insurance for poor, sick children.

If the government isn’t supposed to help poor, sick children, I don’t know what government is supposed to do.

But the Utah right wing didn’t like it.

And the anti-CHIP resolution passed the boisterous convention.

Hatch, like all the delegation, was then to address the convention and give what is normally a rah-rah speech about how well he or she is doing in Congress.

But Hatch took the opportunity to shame the conservative delegates – quoting scripture about how Jesus helped poor, sick children, and how could the U.S. people, via CHIP, do anything less.

It was a moving speech. A great speech.

And many delegates cheered Hatch when he was done, while the conservatives grumbled and looked at their shoes.

So again, the “very conservative” Utahns may not be liking Hatch much these days.

But in my book that’s not such a bad thing.

Still, the senior senator may consider re-announcing his 2018 retirement.

It’s a promise he should keep.

And his job approval ratings may go up, as well.