Senator Lee and the Shutdown

Lee has overwhelming support from the quarter of the population that doesn’t reject the Tea Party.  But the three-quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion.

Senator Mike Lee has received considerable attention nationally, within Utah, and even among his fellow U.S. Senators for his role with Senator Ted Cruz in executing a strategy to defund the Affordable Care Act (widely known as Obamacare).  The tension continues to rise with the government shutdown and the possibility that this will lead to a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

So what do Utahns think about all of this?  Who views Senator Lee’s work favorably or unfavorably? And how does this all compare with the recent past?  The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU just completed another Utah Voter Poll that allows us to answer these and other questions.

We asked respondents to choose between whether “Senator Mike Lee should stand by his principles, even when the result is a government shutdown” or “Senator Mike Lee should be more willing to compromise, even if that means passing a budget with funding for the Affordable Care Act.”

Lee Figure 1

First of all, 57% of Utahns overall would like Senator Lee to be “more willing to compromise” versus 43% who prefer that he “stand by his principles.” That result is not possible in Republican-dominated Utah without at least some Republicans preferring compromise.  In fact, 38% of all self-identified Republicans prefer that Lee compromise compared to 99% of all Democrats.  Independents side heavily with compromise at 65%.

A look at this question by active support for the Tea Party support yields absolutely stunning conclusions.  Among the 13% of respondents who identify as active Tea Party supporters, 90% say that Lee should stick to his principles and not compromise.  Among those who say they are not active supporters (74% of the sample), 73% say he should compromise.

The 13% who answer “Don’t Know” to the Tea Party question are also interesting.  Of this group, 80% say stick to his principles, 20% say compromise.  Those answering “Don’t Know” appear to be Tea Partiers hiding in the “Don’t Know” response option.

All told, then, Lee has overwhelming support from the quarter of the population that doesn’t reject the Tea Party.  But the three-quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion.

But here’s the further complication:  among those who identify as Republicans but do not support the Tea Party, the split is 51/49 in favor of compromise.  Recall, that among all Republicans (Tea Party supporters or not), support for “standing by his principles” is very strong — 62/38.

So, how vulnerable is Lee because of his tactics on Obamacare and the shutdown?  On this issue he has near total support from the Tea Party and about half of the non-Tea Party affiliated Republicans.  He has generated some opposition within his own party because of his actions, but on balance and buoyed by the overwhelming support for Tea Partiers, his tactics in the budget fight still enjoy the support of most Republicans.

That said, Lee’s stance has carried over into his favorability ratings.  Compared to our June 2013 Utah Voter Poll, Senator Lee’s favorability fortunes have reversed course.  In October the favorability to unfavorability ratio is 40/51 while back in June 2013 it was 50/41.  More Utah voters now have an unfavorable impression of him.

Lee Figure 2

To put Lee’s current favorability numbers in the proper context, we’ve put them side by side with Jim Matheson’s current numbers, after all Matheson’s name always comes up in discussions of statewide elections. Just for fun, we’ve thrown in some favorability numbers for Senator Bob Bennett from the March 2010 Utah Voter Poll.   Matheson’s favorable to unfavorable ratio is 58/36, not great compared to Governor Herbert who is at 71/25 (not shown in the figure), but not bad for a Democrat amidst a sea of Republicans.  Notably, Lee is also now clearly behind the numbers of former Senator Bennett from our March 2010 Utah Voter Poll.

When you break the numbers down into “very” and “somewhat” favorable ratings, you see that Senator Lee is a polarizing figure.  His highest ratings are for “very unfavorable” (40%) followed by “very favorable” 26%.  Lee’s very favorable numbers are also virtually unchanged from June.  The change is from somewhat favorable to very unfavorable. Moderate Republicans who once gave Lee a lukewarm thumbs up are now giving him a strong thumbs down.  Matheson and Bennett, in contrast, are highest on the middle “somewhat” categories.

Lee Figure 3

So how is Senator Lee doing among members of his own party?  Back in June he was a rock star with a 71/22 favorable to unfavorable rating.  That’s now fallen off quite a bit, but it’s still at a respectable 57/33.  Is Senator Lee vulnerable to a challenge from the moderate wing of the Republican Party?  Maybe.  Check out former Senator Bennett’s numbers among Republicans in March 2010.  At 57/38 they look a lot like Lee’s do now.  If Lee draws a strong Republican challenger, it would be difficult to predict the outcome right now.  A lot would depend on who shows up to the caucus meetings and the composition of the delegates.  If the Count My Vote initiative is successful, all bets are off.

Lee Figure 4

A strong general election challenger presents a real danger spot for Senator Lee.  Notice Representative Matheson’s favorability/unfavorability ratio among Republicans statewide are is 52/40.  Matheson doesn’t need a majority of Republican votes to win a statewide election, he just needs between a quarter and a third.  That’s been his recipe for success for the last decade plus in his House elections.  That appears very doable right now.

Lee Figure 5

When the Republican only numbers are examined in more detail, once again Senator Lee’s “very favorable” numbers hold pretty constant from June to October.  The voters that always really like him haven’t changed their minds much and his current stance may simply reinforce those views, but he has driven away a group of voters that he will badly want back if he ever faces a strong challenger.  The difficulty for Democrats is finding a challenger with the capacity to win statewide who is willing to run.  The short list is indeed very short.

Altogether, these results are indicative of the larger difficulty within the Republican Party.  While Senator Lee enjoys intense support from a vocal minority and seems to be representing their perspective very well, he does so at his own peril.  The majority of Utah voters are looking for him to compromise and if he fails to do so, he could face electoral consequences.

Survey Methods

Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates) and information about the margin of sampling error.

 

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About Quin Monson

Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
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16 Responses to Senator Lee and the Shutdown

  1. utah_1 says:

    ” If the Count My Vote initiative is successful, all bets are off”.
    Well it isn’t going to be.

    You don’t like Sen. Mike Lee? Whether or not you do you should consider the following:

    re: Sen. Bennett in 2010. He was not in the top 2 coming out of convention. In fact the more moderate Tim Bridgewater was selected by 57% of the delegates in the last round. Mike Lee managed to get 43% and make it to a primary. Sen. Bennett endorsed Tim Bridgewater during the primary, but with voters ticked at TARP and ObamaCare, they went with Mike Lee.

    Sen. Mike Lee was the party nominee after the primary. He was almost eliminated by the delegates.

    We have a system that that does NOT favor the incumbent, the wealthy or the famous. This is a good thing, and should be preserved.

    The Neighborhood Election and Convention system in Utah is the best way to make sure a grassroots process can win over large amounts of money. It is the only way someone with $100,000 can go against someone with $2 million in election funds.

    If you ever want to remove an incumbent and you aren’t looking for someone rich or famous, you want the caucus system to remain.

    • utah_1 says:

      So when the US House recently passed a compromise, backed also by Rep. Matheson as well as Sen. Lee, that wouldn’t have defunded ObamaCare, but delayed implementing part of it, and Sen. Harry Reid refused to even let it be heard, that was the GOP’s fault?

      When the House passed a bill to keep the parks open, and Sen. Reid wouldn’t let it be heard, that was the Republican’s fault?

      When, instead of calling a meeting with the House and Senate leaders of both parties to solve the impasse, the President scheduled the meeting to see how to get a “clean CR” without dealing with any of the problems of implementing ObamaCare, which even Rep. Matheson’s office said was would not get anywhere as soon as the meeting notice arrived, that was the Republican’s fault?

      Who hasn’t had even one budget passed during his entire time as US President, when even his own party wouldn’t buy in to his proposed budgets?

      OK, there are people on both sides that aren’t being smart, but the majority of the problem has been with the US Senate Democratic Majority Leader and our current US President .

  2. Oak says:

    “Lee has overwhelming support from the quarter of the population that doesn’t reject the Tea Party. But the three-quarters of Utahns who do not identify with the Tea Party come to the exact opposite conclusion.”

    You are skewing the results. With 62% of Utah republicans supporting Mike’s actions per your chart above, I highly doubt that’s less than 25% of the Utah population. Especially if that 62% gets Mike through a primary and into a general election where republicans tend to vote republican, especially during Obama years.

    • Adam Brown says:

      You’re mixing up support for the Tea Party with Republican identification. I think the point he’s making here is that those Republicans who also support the Tea Party are those who like what Lee is doing, but non Tea Partiers, which includes many Republicans (as well as most non-Republicans), do not support Lee.

    • Peter Daines says:

      Figure 1
      73% of non-tea partyists want compromise
      90% of tea partyists don’t want compromise
      80% who aren’t sure if they are tea partyists don’t want compromise
      Therefore some non-tea partyists support Lee’s actions, but non-tea partyists still overwhelmingly disapprove. Your comment commits the logical error of assuming that everyone who supports Lee is a tea-partyist. Overall, only 57% of Republicans and 40% of all voters have a favorable impression of Mike Lee. He can probably make it through the primary, but if democrats could put up someone like Matheson in the general election, he would be vulnerable.

  3. Marcy says:

    ’3/4 of Utahns don’t identify with the Tea Party’? I think your numbers are suspect and the whole premise seems to seek approval from the ill informed. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul are a few of the real patriots in the Senate and we can only hope we can get more like them elected next year!

  4. Gary says:

    I am firmly with Mike Lee, it’s the likes of Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch that have made politics so distasteful and these men have been untrustworthy. Mike Lee towers over these and most of the rest of the senate. I will contribute my time, my money and my energy to support him.

  5. Alan Hume says:

    The last poll I saw was 70% in favor of Lee and 28% not in favor. I’m with Lee. Had enough of Orin Hatch and Bob Bennett type. I hope we never see any more of them in Utah!

  6. Greg Gerber says:

    I would say that Mike Lee is a man of principle, I will state the obvious, if most of the political science crowd were in charge of anything except their departments we would have ceased to be a country long ago. The founding fathers and the Constitution have been watered down by most of the politicians so that it is almost unrecognizable. The 10th amendment is largely ignored. Having massive debt fueled deficit spending is nothing to shutdown the government over and having the government take over health care is nothing to fight for. Even though the tactics used were novel, unethical, and will end up causing further divisions. God Bless Mike Lee.

  7. ProfNickD says:

    Not sure why the poll’s media release did not emphasize the fact that Hatch’s approval rating is only 43.6% (to Lee’s 39.8%). Why the sole emphasis on Lee?

    • Quin Monson says:

      The survey was conducted during the government shutdown and Senator Lee is a central figure in that debate along with Senator Cruz. Senator Hatch’s role in the debate has not been very visible. Lee is also up for reelection in 2016 while Hatch announced he would not run again during his 2012 campaign.

  8. Mike Christiansen says:

    Mike Lee is not reckless – he is standing up for principle. Check back in a few more weeks with your polls as they extend Obamacare one year now with bipartisan support. Your article was probably hired by RINO Herbert anyway — percentages attempting to bash Lee as I note you were writing an article and tried to boast of Herbert’s poll numbers. As Obamacare now is being considered to be extended by 6 Senators from the Democratic side, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz become prophets. Get ready, Herbert, you are doomed for criticizing Mike Lee as being reckless, when in fact, the truth was that Lee stood on principle and the government botched website is now changing America’s mind. The recent PR Lady bashing Lee over her cancer mother (Herbert’s former employee) was probably also hired by Herbert to bash Lee. It is backfiring and Herbert is going to be working as a small time Provo real estate agent again – very soon. Utah is conservative and as soon as Hannity and Fox show up to Lee’s side, Hatch, Huntsman and Herbert can retire. There’s a new conservative movement and we get the joke. The joke is Herbert, Hatch and Huntsman.

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