Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones believes Democrat Ted Wilson lost the governor's race for several reasons, but main among them is that Utah is 2-1 Republican and, unlike former Democratic governors Scott Matheson and Calvin Rampton, Wilson didn't convince voters he was a fiscal conservative.
Being painted as a liberal spender during his 10 years as mayor, even if people believed Wilson was a nice guy, was too much, and many Republicans who formerly supported him deserted Wilson on Election Day and voted for the Republican governor.Jones, who also polled for Bangerter this election year and so had some insights into that campaign, spoke before the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah on Thursday - the organization Wilson will be returning to as director after losing in the three-way governor's race.
Jones said a poll published Nov. 6 in the Deseret News that showed a tie between Wilson and Bangerter probably helped the governor's cause. "For the first time, people saw that the governor could win, and some of the Republicans (who had been in the Wilson camp) came to him, I believe," Jones said.
He added that his final poll for the newspaper and TV station "was right on."
"That poll was closer (to how the election turned out) than I've ever been before."
Jones said people didn't get interested in the election until October. "Usually, it's September." Voters were turned off because of a lackluster, negative presidential campaign.
"It won't be a record turnout in Utah this year, but much better than in recent years. I guess between 78-80 percent," Jones said. "And that is because of the tax initiatives, not the governor's race."
Wilson had a huge lead early in the race and held a 10-point lead with just over a month to go - so that race isn't what brought people to the polls.
"The killing thing for the initiatives was how they would affect public - not higher - education. People really worried about that, my data show," Jones said.
"This makes some people really mad, but I'm convinced of it, convinced, if the tax initiatives had passed, Merrill Cook would have been elected governor. He was tied that closely to them."
Cook was the independent candidate for governor who jumped from the Republican Party to champion the tax-cutting initiatives. "He was a one-issue candidate, period. But that issue could have won it for him if that issue had won," Jones said.
He said his data show Cook hurt Bangerter "by a hair" more than he did Wilson.
But Wilson supporters don't believe that. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi said Thursday that Cook cost Wilson the election.