Update: Bush popularity slides -- even in Utah

Published May 15, 2006 6:33 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For months, Utah has supported President Bush like no other state.

But no longer.

Utah now ranks second, behind Idaho, in surveys tracking Bush's job approval.

Utah (51 percent) and Idaho (52 percent) are the only two states where a majority of residents still approve of the way Bush is handling the country, according to SurveyUSA figures released Monday.

KSL-TV sponsored the poll of Utahns, which had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

Wyoming residents were split with half approving of Bush's job performance and 49 percent disapproving. Every other state was below 50 percent and most were significantly lower.

The collection of surveys, available online at http://www.surveyusa.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.surveyusa.com, found that 38 states reported job approval numbers at 40 percent or below.

Such dismal approval numbers have Republicans concerned about November's mid-term election.

"Its tough right now," said Jeff Hartley, executive director of the Utah Republican Party. "The president's approval rating dropping hurts all of our candidates." Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, blamed the poor showing on the Iraq war during a question and answer session at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank.

"People like this president," Rove said Monday, according to an Associated Press report. "They're just sour right now on the war.

"I think the war looms over everything. There's no doubt about it." Even as fatigue with the war dropped Bush's approval numbers to all-time lows, Utahns have consistently stayed supportive. In December 2005, Bush had a 63 percent approval rating in Utah. But that number has dropped bit by bit ever since.

University of Utah political scientists Matthew Burbank said Rocky Mountain states have stood behind Bush longer than others for two reasons. These states were more supportive of the war and more bullish about the economy, but he believed Bush's poll numbers were destined to erode with gas prices rising and the war dragging on.

"We are heartened to know that Utahns are finally coming to understand what the rest of the nation already understands - This administration is not working," said Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party. "If you are dealing with the deficit or Hurricane Katrina or security issues, they are failing." Hartley said the four percentage point drop in Bush's approval rating in the past month has more to do with the raging debate over immigration than any other issue.

Republicans are split over a guest worker program backed by Bush, and the only policy that most Republicans back is increased border security, Hartley said.

Bush unveiled a plan to patrol the border with soldiers from the National Guard in a televised speech Monday evening - a move that may strengthen his support within his own party. According to the Utah poll, 18 percent of Republicans disapproved of Bush's job performance.

Hartley said: "We are hoping he can turn things around." And Republicans would prefer a quick rise in support well before the election.

Taylor is convinced Democrats will benefit at the ballot box if Bush's popularity doesn't improve.

"There is no doubt that the national political winds have major effects here in Utah," he said. "We saw it most strikingly in 1994." That was when Republicans took over Congress behind Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. Democrats in Utah lost the 2nd Congressional District seat, gave up control of the Salt Lake County Commission and at least one seat in Davis County that Taylor believes is a result of the Republican shift.

But Burbank is not so sure, calling a local impact by these national polling numbers "very unlikely." Still, if a race is tight and optimistic Democrats turn out to vote, Bush's low popularity could make the difference.

mcanham@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mcanham@sltrib.com

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