Utahns like the way Gov. Norm Bangerter does his job a lot more these days, but the governor still hasn't fully recovered the popularity he enjoyed before he suggested a large tax increase in 1987.

The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll by Dan Jones & Associates shows that 58 percent of those questioned strongly or somewhat approve of the job Bangerter is doing as governor. That's the highest job performance rating the governor has received since before his tax-hike recommendations.Perhaps more significantly, only 38 percent strongly or somewhat disapprove of the job Bangerter is doing, Jones found.

That is way down from the 51 percent disapproval rating Jones recorded in June of last year, just as the governor's re-election effort was starting to take hold.

Bangerter won re-election to another four-year term last November by beating Democrat Ted Wilson by 2 percentage points _ 40 percent to 38 percent. Independent candidate Merrill Cook got just over 21 percent of the vote.

While the governor won re-election, he still got a minority of the vote, 40 percent, so it's understandable that many Utahns still disapprove of the job the governor is doing.

Bangerter gets the lowest approval rating and the highest disapproval rating of Utah's top elected officials. Their job approval ratings will be published in subsequent stories.

But the governor's popularity is clearly on the upswing.

A year ago, in January 1988, only 43 percent approved of the job Bangerter was doing and 54 percent disapproved. At that time, 25 percent of those who said they're Republicans strongly disapproved of the job Bangerter was doing. Today, Jones found that only 14 percent of all Republicans strongly disapprove of the governor's job performance.

In January 1986 Bangerter enjoyed about the same job approval rating as Utah's other GOP officeholders. Then, 73 percent of those questioned by Jones approved of Bangerter's job performance. That dropped dramatically after Bangerter suggested a $200 million tax hike in December 1986. By January 1987, 48 percent disapproved of the job he was doing.

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(poll)

How would you rate Gov. Norm Bangerter's job performance?

Strongly approve 16%

Somewhat approve 42%

Somewhat disapprove 18%

Strongly Disapprove 19%

Don't Know 5%