Utah gives Obama lowest marks of his presidency
Washington • No state gives President Barack Obama lower marks than Utah, according to a new poll by Gallup, which found that only 26 percent of respondents approve of the job he has done this year.
His second-lowest approval rating came from Wyoming (28 percent), with Idaho not far behind at 31 percent, solidifying the Mountain West as the most inhospitable region for the president.
Obama received more than 50 percent in 14 locales, with his highest marks coming in Washington, D.C. (83 percent), Hawaii (63 percent) and Rhode Island (58 percent).
The longer the president has been in office, the less support he's drawn from Beehive State residents.
In 2009, some 48 percent of Utah adults surveyed by Gallup backed the president's job performance, a number that slid to 34 percent just a year later. In 2011, Obama earned only 29 percent of support from Utahns. His 2012 mark of 26 percent is the lowest Obama has received in any state during his presidency.
Kelly Patterson, a Brigham Young University political scientist, says a few factors contribute to Obama's drop in support in Utah. First, more people are politically engaged as the election gets closer, and in a Republican state like Utah that usually results in a drop in support for a Democratic president. On top of that, the nation's persistent economic woes have hurt Obama. And the kicker is that Obama is running against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon with deep ties to the state that include leading the 2002 Winter Olympics.
"Many will think you can't approve of the president and still vote for Governor Romney," said Patterson. "That's just an added dimension that is going to push them away from any sort of approval for what the president does."
Or as Kirk Jowers, a Republican who runs the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and is an adviser to the Romney campaign, puts it: "It sounds like 26 percent had very low expectations or were not in Utah when Romney ran the Olympics."
Utah Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis believes the president's dismal approval rating in Utah can be attributed almost exclusively to the Romney factor.
"He's part of the tribe for many Utahns," he said. "There are a lot of things that Utahns appreciate about President Obama, but hey, this is the home team here. It's Mitt Romney."
In 2008, Obama narrowly won Salt Lake County and claimed 34 percent of the statewide vote, while Republican candidate Sen. John McCain received 63 percent.
With Romney's high popularity, in part from his successful leadership of the 2002 Winter Games, it's likely that Obama will lose in Utah by a much larger percentage this year.
Dabakis downplays any impact that might have on Democrats running in other races, such as Rep. Jim Matheson, who is trying to win a seventh term in the new 4th Congressional District, and state Sen. Ben McAdams, who is running for Salt Lake County mayor.
"Utahns are very independent-minded, and I suspect whatever button they push at the top of the ticket, they will look down the ballot, going person and person," he said.
Patterson said Matheson and McAdams are seasoned politicians, but there is no way to deny "they'll be sailing into a headwind."
Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said candidates like Matheson, who have said they will vote for Obama, "are going to struggle to explain that to voters in Utah."
"I think the reason [the president's] approval rating is so low is that Utahns are conservative," he said. "They've seen what good Republican governance can do."
Gallup surveyed 90,766 adults in all 50 states and the nation's capital as part of its tracking poll. The margin of error for individual states is no greater than plus or minus 8 percent, Gallup says, and is around plus or minus 3 percent for most states. The survey included 1,118 adults in Utah, for an error margin of 4 percent.
Thomas Burr contributed to this report.
Obama's approval rating
Gallup's latest state-by-state poll shows that 13 states and the District of Columbia give President Barack Obama an approval rating above 50 percent, while 16 rank him lower than 40 percent.
His top five:
District of Columbia: 83 percent
Hawaii: 63 percent
Rhode Island: 58 percent
Vermont: 56 percent
New York, Massachusetts, Maryland: 55 percent
His bottom five:
Utah: 26 percent
Wyoming: 28 percent
Alaska: 29 percent
West Virginia: 31 percent
Idaho: 31 percent
Source: Gallup daily tracking poll January to June 2012