Poll: Utahns Approve of Lee More than Hatch

Orrin Hatch and Mike LeeAs he enters his first re-election cycle, freshman U.S. Sen. Mike Lee is looking pretty good to Utahns, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

The Dan Jones & Associates survey shows that 61 percent of Utahns approve of the job Lee is doing in the U.S. Senate.

Twenty-eight percent disapprove of the Lee’s job performance, and 10 percent don’t know. 

That’s a better job approval rating that veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch gets.

Fifty-seven percent of Utahns approve of Hatch’s job performance, 38 percent disapprove, and 5 percent don’t know, Jones found in a survey of 624 adults conducted Nov. 5-14. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.92 percent.

Hatch has rebounded in the job approval polls, in July he was below 50 percent, not a good rating. In today’s anti-incumbent political climate, both Lee and Hatch are doing quite well.

Several “big name” Republicans were considering running against Lee next year. But they all bailed, and Lee approaches his first re-election without a credible challenger within his party.

Lee has been on a relationship-rebuilding program lately. And it apparently is working.

If anyone was going to beat Lee in 2016, it clearly had to be a fellow Republican. And it likely would have to be someone running from the political middle – as Lee has the Utah right-wing sewed up.

Jones finds:

— Among Republicans, 83 percent approve of the job Lee is doing in the Senate, only 8 percent disapprove.

— Among those who said they are “very conservative” politically, 89 percent approve of the job Lee is doing, only 7 percent disapprove.

— Among those who said they are members of the Tea Party, 86 percent approve of the job Lee is doing, only 8 percent disapprove.

One would not expect Lee to do well among Democrats – and he doesn’t.

Only 13 percent of Democrats say Lee is doing a good job, 72 percent disapprove of him.

Among political independents, 51 percent still say Lee is doing a good job, 40 percent disapprove of his work in the Senate.

It is still unclear if a GOP candidate, next year taking the signature-only path to the Republican Party primary, would be kicked out of the GOP or not.

So if the convention route is the only one open to any GOP candidate, Lee could find himself in superb shape in the 2016 Utah Republican Party convention – where delegates, who historically are more conservative than rank-and-file Republicans – will vote on candidates.

In this summer’s off-election-year GOP convention, delegates politely clapped for Hatch as he was given a special award for his years of service in the U.S. Senate (38 and counting).

But the delegates really cheered Lee.

In his 2012 election to a seventh term (a Utah state record), Hatch promised it would be his last.

But Republicans won control of the Senate last year – with Hatch becoming chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

 And Hatch has started talking about running for an eighth term in 2018.

However, if 2016 brings another Democratic U.S. President, and if Republicans lose control of the Senate and Hatch falls into the minority, it may well seal his 2018 fate – and he may indeed retire.

If familiarity breeds contempt, then Hatch may well be wearing out his welcome – his lagging poll numbers being one indication.

For years, Hatch had job approval ratings in the 60s, even 70s percentile.

And now we’re talking about a comeback when his job approval ratings go above 50 percent.

Utah Republicans as a whole still strongly support Hatch. It is the party’s right wing that’s giving him trouble.

Jones numbers show:

— 73 percent of Republicans approve of Hatch’s job performance, 22 percent disapprove and 4 percent don’t know.

— Democrats wouldn’t be expected to like Hatch, and they don’t – only 28 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 66 percent disapprove.

— Political independents are split, 48 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove.

— Those who said they are “very conservative,” 57 percent support Hatch, 42 percent disapprove.

While the very conservative number is the same as Hatch’s overall approve number (57 percent), the fact that 42 percent of “very conservative” Utahns disapprove of Hatch’s job performance is not a good number for the senior senator.

— Among those who said they are members of the Tea Party, only 40 percent approve of the job Hatch is doing, while 60 percent disapprove of Hatch’s job performance.

If Hatch were invited to a Tea Party, he probably shouldn’t go.

The numbers are the opposite for Lee, 86 percent of Utah Tea Partiers approve of his job performance in the U.S. Senate while only 8 percent disapprove.

Both Hatch and Lee have been talking a lot lately about how religious freedom and the rights of individual conscience.

And those who said they are “very active” in the LDS Church appreciate it.

Jones finds that among active Mormons, 67 percent approve of the job Hatch is doing, 30 percent disapprove.

For Lee, 78 percent of active Mormons approve of his job performance, 17 percent disapprove.

Both men are active Mormons. Lee may be doing better in part because many Utah Mormons would know he’s the son of former BYU president, Rex Lee.

Bottom line: Lee is looking really good as he approaches his 2016 re-election with support from Utah Republicans across the board.

Should Hatch decide to run for re-election in 2018, he may be vulnerable to a challenge from his party’s right wing, the new poll numbers show.