Less than 40 percent of the Utahns surveyed on behalf of the Tax Limitation Coalition gave the group a favorable rating, suggesting to their failed gubernatorial candidate, Merrill Cook, that a change in leadership is in order.

Cook released the preliminary results of the survey to coalition leaders over the weekend. The survey, which is being expanded to include Utahns living outside the Wasatch Front, is expected to be finished mid-week."I think they had their eyes opened," Cook said of the group whose tax initiatives were also rejected by voters. "Some of them have been operating without a real understanding of what the public's opinion of them really is."

Among the 300 Utahns surveyed, that opinion is running about 37 percent favorable to some 29 percent unfavorable. The coalition leaders, he said, had expected to receive an approval rating that was twice as high.

Dragging down the public's attitude toward the group is its dependence on radio talk-show host Mills Crenshaw to spread their message instead of using more traditional political organizational techniques, Cook said.

"We want Mills to be a part of it, but we don't want him to be the movement," he said. "The way to make this more than a single-issue movement is to take away some of the personality factors."

Cook acknowledged that he will be seen as attempting to substitute himself as the leader of the tax-limitation movement that began when Crenshaw's listeners banded together to fight the record tax increases of 1987.

They gathered tens of thousands of signatures to qualify three initiatives for the November ballot but were unable to deliver enough votes for either the initiatives or Cook to win.

He said he and others associated with the coalition will have to ask themselves the questions, "What do we really want? Do we want to change the state or do we want something for ourselves?"

What Cook wants is to provide the opportunity for Utahns to organize a third political party that he would help lead. The idea was first broached publicly in his election night concession speech.

Whether a third party is formed will likely depend on what the 1989 Legislature accomplishes in terms of tax reductions, Cook said. He and the coalition are supporting a tax cut of as much as $100 million.

Gov. Norm Bangerter has proposed reducing taxes by $19 million. Cook wants the sales tax removed from food, although Crenshaw and others are reportedly leaning toward other types of reductions.

The survey is showing strong support for both a new political party and for reducing sales taxes as opposed to property or income taxes, Cook said. And to no one's surprise, the majority of respondents said their taxes are too high.