Public perception. To a politician, it's everything.

Gov. Norm Bangerter has had an uphill fight against his public perception the past 18 months, ever since he proposed a record state tax increase and dropped in the polls. He's gaining in that fight, the latest Dan Jones & Associates poll shows. But it remains to be seen if the forward momentum will be enough to carry the governor to another four years.In a poll taken for the Deseret News and KSL-TV last week, Jones found that Utahns have a better opinion of the job Bangerter is doing as governor these days. Jones found that 48 percent strongly or somewhat approve of Bangerter's job performance, up from 43 percent in January.

But half of all Utahns, 50 percent, still disapprove of the job Bangerter is doing. Three percent didn't have opinion on the governor.

In an attempt to find out how Utahns feel about Bangerter, his Democratic challenger, Ted Wilson, and independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, Jones asked a variety of questions.

Among them was one that reflected the shaky confidence seen in the governor's job performance. Asked if they are more or less likely to vote for the governor because of the decisions he's made the past three years, 57 percent of those questioned said they are less likely to vote for him because of those decisions.

Jones also asked who, of the three, is the best manager, best leader, has the most experience, is the most believable and cares most about you.

Wilson leads Bangerter in all categories except "most experienced," Jones found. Cook trails in all the categories. The responses to those five questions generally reflect the voter's preference in the goveror's race. As reported in the Sunday Deseret News, Wilson is favored by 47 percent of those questioned by Jones, Bangerter by 34 percent and Cook by 16 percent. Only 3 percent were undecided about who they would vote for for governor.

Asked who is the best manager, 48 percent said Wilson, 26 percent said Bangerter, 12 percent said Cook.

Fifty-five percent said Wilson is the best leader, 28 percent said Bangerter, 7 percent said Cook.

Thirty-nine percent think Wilson is the most believable, 29 percent said Bangerter, 10 percent said Cook.

Thirty-eight percent believe Wilson cares most about them, 26 percent said Bangerter, 12 percent said Cook.

The governor comes out on top only with "most experienced;" 53 percent favored him, 33 percent said Wilson was more experienced and 3 percent said Cook.

Jones also asked three critical questions about each candidate - the question aimed at what is considered by the opposing candidates as one of the most vulnerable areas of the candidate.

Asked if the decisions Bangerter has made over the past three years makes them more or less likely to vote for him, 57 percent said they are less likely to vote for the governor because of the decisions he's made. Twenty-eight percent said they are more likely to vote for Bangerter because of his decisions, while 14 percent said the governor's decisions make no difference.

Asked if Wilson's resigning his mayoralship before his term expired made them more or less likely to vote for him, 38 percent said Wilson's leaving made them less likely to vote for him, 53 percent said it made no difference and 7 percent said his quiting made them more likely to vote for him.

Asked if Cook's leaving the Republican Party and running as an independent made them more or less likely to vote for him, 31 percent said it made them less likely to support him, 51 percent said it made no difference and 15 percent said it made them more likely to vote for him.

Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager, said he's not surprised by the response on the governor's decisions. "He fell like a rock in the polls after he announced his proposed tax increase for education. It was an unpopular decision, it's clear. But it was also the right decision. Look at our choices at the time. He had no good options. He did what he had to," Buhler said.

Rob Jolley, Wilson's campaign manager, said the question was negatively worded, "so there is a negative response (to Wilson's resigning) that doesn't surprise me at all."

Gov. Norm Bangerter says he has had to make some tough decisions in the past three years, like pumping the Great Salt Lake, raising taxes for education and closing down the failed thrifts and loans. Do the decisions Bangerter made make you more or less likely to vote for him this November?

Much more likely 9 percent

Somewhat more likely 19 percent

Makes no difference 14 percent

Somewhat less likely 22 percent

Much less likely 35 percent

Don't know 2 percent

Some Republicans have criticized Ted Wilson for leaving Salt Lake City before his last term as mayor was over. Does the fact that Wilson resigned as mayor make you more or less likely to vote for him?

uch more likely 5 percent

Somewhat more likely 10 percent

Makes no difference 51 percent

Somewhat less likely 15 percent

Much less likely 16 percent

Don't know 3 percent

How would you rate the job performance of Bangerter?