What’s up with Senator Mike Lee’s Favorability Rating? (plus Oct 2012 Key Research Toplines)

It’s not that Lee is really unpopular, it’s just that even after two years he’s still relatively unknown.  Lee’s statewide favorability resembles the statewide ratings of Utah’s Republican U.S. House members.

Key Research, a survey and market research company based in Provo, recently cooperated with faculty at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy to conduct a statewide survey.  We’ve already posted some of the results here and here.

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

What else is in the survey that we haven’t written about?  Let’s take a quick look at the approval ratings and favorability scores of our elected officials.  First, Governor Herbert enjoys an extremely high approval rating among Utah voters at 83%.  Herbert’s high approval rating goes a long way toward explaining why he’s cruising to reelection.  The legislature is doing quite well too, at 71%.  Generally, legislative bodies have lower approval ratings than the executive, and while the Utah Legislature’s approval typically goes down a few clicks during its session each year, they should collectively be pleased with the current approval level.  Finally, and not surprisingly, President Obama is not popular in Utah.

We also asked survey respondents to report the favorability of Utah elected officials with the following question: “For each of the following persons, please indicate whether you have a favorable or unfavorable impression.”  The percentages below report the percentages for the full statewide sample even for the three current incumbents to the U.S. House who each only currently represent a third of the state.

Governor Herbert and Mitt Romney both enjoy very high favorability ratings statewide.  Senator Hatch is about 10 points lower, but still respectable.  Members of Utah’s U.S. House delegation all have lower statewide favorability ratings.  But this is understandable as none of them represents a statewide constituency.  Notice that for both Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, the proportion unable to give an opinion is between a quarter and a third.

That leaves the two most interesting ratings: Jim Matheson and Mike Lee.  Matheson’s is interesting because in our past polling, he has enjoyed extremely high favorability ratings along with high name recognition, even statewide.  Just back in June of this year, his favorability was 62% statewide.  In the March 2010 Utah Voter Poll, Matheson actually had a higher favorability statewide than Governor Herbert.  Matheson’s now lower statewide favorability demonstrates the perils of facing two consecutive close races,  especially when that includes having several million dollars spent against you in the statewide television market.

In Senator Mike Lee’s case it’s interesting to note that his favorability is relatively low compared to the other statewide elected officials.  Furthermore, the percentage expressing no opinion is relatively high (31%) compared to the other elected officials  It’s not that Lee is really unpopular, it’s just that even after two years he’s still relatively unknown.  Lee’s statewide favorability resembles the statewide ratings of Utah’s Republican U.S. House members.

In fact, when you put Lee’s statewide favorability side by side with the statewide and district favorability ratings for Utah’s U.S. House members, you find that Rob Bishop and especially Jason Chaffetz have high favorability ratings among their own constituents.  It’s still early for Mike Lee to be too worried, but within the next two years he should hope to shift most voters from “no opinion” toward the favorable group.  Otherwise we could see challengers inside and outside the Republican Party take notice and begin laying the groundwork for a strong challenge in 2016.  There, I’ve managed to mention 2016 this early without talking about the presidential campaign.  Fact:  Utah is much more likely to see another interesting U.S. Senate election than it is to see itself listed as a competitive presidential state.

Survey Methodology

For this survey 500 voters were sampled from the state’s file of active registered voters; 100 in each of the four congressional districts with an extra 100 oversampled in the 4th Congressional District.  For the statewide results, the numbers have been weighted so that each congressional district is equally represented.  Using the voter list for sampling allows information in the file to be used to make the sampling represent the target population of Utah voters more effectively and efficiently.

A model of general election turnout was estimated using age, party registration status, length of registration, and past election turnout–all shown in political science research to be related to voter turnout.  Using this model we produced an estimate of the predicted probability of voting in the 2012 general election for each individual registered voter in the file.  This produces a sampling pool of registered voters that can be randomly sampled based on their likelihood of voting. A Probability Proportionate to Size (PPS) sample was then drawn using this predicted turnout estimate such that voters with a higher probability of voting have a higher probability of being selected in the sample.   The sample was then matched to a database of telephone numbers and sampled voters were contacted and administered a questionnaire over the telephone by Key Research.

The survey field dates were October 9, 2012 – October 13, 2012.  The statewide sample of 500 produces a margin of sampling error of 4.4%.  The margin of error is larger for questions that some respondents chose not to answer or for the questions only asked of a subset of respondents.  Of course, sampling error is only one possible source of error in survey research.  Results can also be affected by measurement error (e.g. question wording and question order), coverage error (e.g. counting as “likely voters” survey respondents who will not vote), and non-response error (e.g. the people who responded to they survey are systematically different from people who refused or were not reachable).

Once again, our experience working with the team at Key Research has been extremely positive and we plan to work with them on their surveys on a regular basis moving forward.

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About Quin Monson

Quin Monson is Associate Professor of Political Science and a Senior Scholar with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
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