Upwards of 2,000 people attended the Nov. 2 rally for Senator Mike Lee. That was many more than even organizer Amelia Powers expected. She thought 100, maybe 200 would show up to Riverfront West Park that Saturday.
That makes Lee’s low approval numbers skiwampus, right?
Not at all, said Quin Monson, director of BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy that produced many of those figures.
Monson authored “Senator Lee and the Shutdown,” a blog post on UtahDataPoints.com that detailed results from a CSED poll indicating polarized support in Utah for the junior senator.
“The poll and the rally are actually pretty consistent in that his favorability is polarized—there are very ardent supporters and dissenters,” Monson said. “The fact that there was a strong showing at the rally is great evidence of that.”
“Senator Lee and the Shutdown” revealed that one-quarter of Utah’s population overwhelmingly supported Lee after his high-profile role in consummating a strategy with Senator Ted Cruz to defund the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” It also showed that “three quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion,” Monson wrote. Lee also saw his favorability fall below 50 percent in a Deseret News/KSL poll.
A trio of Utah women including Powers, a Utah County resident, organized the rally because they were tired of seeing data like that found in Monson’s study. Speaking to begin the rally, Powers said she had taken her own non-scientific poll in her neighborhood, where Lee’s favorability rating was much higher than the Utah Data Points polls showed.
“Our poll didn’t show no support,” Monson said. “It was just polarized and support had decreased. That doesn’t mean that the strongly favorable group isn’t sizable and strongly motivated to show support. If 25 percent of people really support (Lee), that’s thousands of people. You should get a good group.”
“It was a Saturday and people had a couple days’ notice,” Utah Democratic Party Communications Director Anna Thompson said. “People turn out when they are passionate.”
The surprise for Monson was that a larger opposition group didn’t turn out. No more than two dozen individuals were crowded around anti-Lee signs. Just one activist—Cottonwood Heights resident Mel Walker—got vocal when the senator began to speak, with chants of “Shut down Mike!”
The Utah Democratic Party sent an email asking opponents to display their disapproval.
“With not much of a showing, it suggests that while (opposing) feelings are strong, the strong supporters appear to be willing to put in action,” Monson said. “Maybe it would have been different if a Mike Lee rally had been held in Liberty Park.”
South Jordan was a great access point for Republicans from Utah and Salt Lake County, Monson said.
“We were excited to see so many people go show a differing view,” Thompson said. “The rally was largely foiled considering the shutdown… we were really thrilled that people turned out.”
Party staff was not in attendance. Thompson said that they were on a retreat in Summit County.
Monson also maintained that Lee still has enough supporters to “survive” in a caucus setting, but possibly not in a primary, facing a moderate Republican or “the right Democrat.” The “caveat of ‘Count My Vote,’” which would reform Utah’s caucus-convention system, could “certainly make (a Lee victory) more difficult, to be sure,” Monson said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said that because Lee is an “existing senator” with a rising voice, he would not be damaged by “Count My Vote.”
Niederhauser said he should be the poster child for “Count My Vote,” nearly losing his bid for state senate himself in 2006 despite receiving nearly five times as much campaign funding as his opponent.
“Count My Vote’s approach empowers the incumbent because of name and money,” Niederhauser said. “The caucus-convention system, the only flaw is that the people don’t get out to the caucus.”
On Saturday, Lee was the keynote speaker at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Friends of the Family banquet to raise money for the organization. Tea party powerhouse Sarah Palin also starred in a state where early nominating states for U.S. president occur.
The study also revealed that 40 percent of Utahns viewed Lee unfavorably in October, compared to 51 percent in June. Former senator Bob Bennett carried a 46 percent favorability rating in March 2010, before Lee defeated him at a Utah Republican Party Convention.
In June, Lee sported a 71/22 favorable to unfavorable rating within the Utah GOP. In October, it was 57/33, compared to 57/38 for Bennett in March 2010.