Gov. Norm Bangerter's campaign, now winding down, has conducted polls that show he would have won re-election over Democrat Ted Wilson even if independent Merrill Cook hadn't been in the race.
But Wilson, who led Bangerter by 34 points in early polls, says the polls are aimed at making the governor look good.Wilson still believes he would have won the race if Cook and the tax-cutting initiatives hadn't played "a major, major" factor. Wilson said the Bangerter polls are an effort to shore up support for the governor, who won the three-way race with 40 percent of the vote to Wilson's 38 percent. Cook got 21 percent.
Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler, who has now gone back to his job within the governor's administration, met with reporters Friday morning and released the results of a Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted just before Thanksgiving, several weeks after the Nov. 8 election.
Buhler also released the results of the tracking polling done the last weeks of the campaign. That tracking, in which 150 different people were called each night and the results woven into three previous nights' calling, was done by Jones.
Buhler asked a number of questions in the polls, but he considers one of the most significant is a question of whom the respondents would have picked if Cook hadn't been in the race.
Forty-five percent said they'd vote for Bangerter, 44 percent said Wilson. That's within the margin of error in the poll, but Buhler believes that number and other poll questions show that without Cook, Bangerter still would have won.
"That's a bunch of crap," said Wilson. "Without Cook, I would have won easily."
Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi, who was a Wilson adviser, said he studied the voting district results following the election. "Look at the traditional Democratic districts on the west sides of Weber and Salt Lake counties. Cook took huge numbers there. Look at the strong Republican districts on the east sides of those counties. You need Jim Rockford to find a Cook vote. Buhler can poll his guts out, but he won't have a clue to what really happened without studying those districts."
A challenger must get most of the so-called protest vote against an incumbent, especially a Republican incumbent, or he can't win, said Horiuchi. "Merrill Cook and Ted Wilson split that protest vote in Democratic districts and Cook cost Ted this election, pure and simple." Horiuchi thinks Wilson would have won by 4 points without Cook. Wilson thinks he would have won by 15 points without Cook and the tax initiatives.
Buhler said that from the start, when Wilson led Bangerter in a January 1988 poll (Cook wasn't in the race yet), 62-28 percent, "We knew we had to get the Republican vote back into the governor's camp." Wilson had 43 percent of the Republican vote to Bangerter's 45 percent back then. By Nov. 4, however, Bangerter had 56 percent of the GOP vote, Wilson only 18 percent and Cook 20 percent. Utah is 2-1 Republican, so Democrats need some Republican votes to win a statewide race.
Because of his recommended $220 million tax increase that led to the tax revolt, the tax initiatives and Cook's candidacy, Bangerter's popularity was at an all-time low a year ago. In January 1988, 46 percent of Utahns had a unfavorable opinion of the governor, while only 9 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Wilson. "We had to get Ted's unfavorable ratings up," said Buhler.
They did. At election time, after TV advertising, debates and 140,000 pieces of direct mail to wayward Republicans, 43 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Wilson and 44 percent an unfavorable opinion of Bangerter. "People voted for the governor because they came to understand he was the responsible, conservative alternative," said Buh-ler.
Buhler said his post-election poll shows Bangerter's TV advertising worked, and that Wilson's didn't. Wilson ran one spot late in the election that showed Bangerter flip-flopping on a number of decisions. It was considered a hard-hitting piece, but Buhler said tracking polls showed it wasn't working.