Democrat Ted Wilson still holds a 28-point lead over Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter a year after the two were first paired in public opinion polls, the latest Dan Jones & Associates poll shows.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook gets only 8 percent of the vote in the three-way race, but he says he's satisfied with that showing this early in the campaign.Conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV, the latest Jones poll shows that Bangerter has been unable to cut into Wilson's lead, even though as governor he is often in the news and has already spent $100,000 on campaign television advertisements.
The poll, taken April 19-21, shows if the election for governor were held today, 56 percent would vote for Wilson, 28 percent for Ban-gerter, 8 percent for Cook, 1 percent for someone else and 7 percent didn't know.
Jones found that the other formal candidates for governor had no impact on the race. Jones took a sample of 904 adults. The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 3.0 percent.
In March 1987, just after the Utah Legislature passed the largest tax increase in the state's history at Ban-gerter's request, Jones found that 56 percent of those questioned favored Wilson for governor, 29 percent wanted Bangerter and 15 percent didn't know.
In November, Jones found that 59 percent wanted Wilson, 28 percent Bangerter, 4 percent wanted someone else and 9 percent didn't know.
Jones said that his data shows Cook's independent candidacy harms Bangerter more than Wilson. "I didn't expect the governor to do better," Jones said, "considering the poll was taken right after people paid their income taxes."
Said Wilson about the latest poll: "The continued wide gap between the governor and me says the people want new leadership. They are beginning to abandon hope that Norm Bangerter can put it together for the state, can really bring in jobs and solve the education problems." While pleased with the poll results, Wilson said he still expects Ban-gerter to narrow the gap before the Nov. 8 election.
Bangerter's campaign manager, Dave Buhler, said he isn't surprised or dismayed by the latest poll.
"We're glad to hold our own, considering how volatile and strange the race has been for the past month," he said. Buhler is referring to industrialist Jon Huntsman's entry into the GOP nomination contest on March 15 and his withdrawal on April 13. In that month Huntsman also ran about $100,000 worth of TV advertisements. Huntsman foray "was unsettling, people still don't know what to think," said Buhler.
Cook said the poll tells him that "the governor is dead in the water."
"He hasn't moved in (the polls) in a year. Over the next few months people will realize that I, not the governor, have the best chance to beat Ted Wilson. Now, people are saying that I'm not a viable candidate. But soon they will see that (Bangerter) isn't viable. Then, I believe, they will shift to me," Cook said. Cook's percentage of voters stays within 7-9 percentage points across the range of demographic data, Jones found.
Wilson's lead over Bangerter drops to 20 points among those who said they are most likely to vote, 53-33. But among those who said they are somewhat likely to vote Wilson leads the governor 59-27. Among those registered to vote Wilson leads Bangerter 58-28.
Jones also asked those contacted if they had been supporters of Huntsman. Thirty-four percent said yes. He then asked those Huntsman supporters who they now favored for governor: 57 percent went to Wilson, 25 percent to Bangerter, 11 percent to Cook, 3 percent went to someone else and 5 percent didn't know.
Buhler also wasn't dismayed by those numbers. "Friday, Mr. Huntsman was named by the governor to be Utah's economic development ambassador. He is solidly in our camp and will campaign for us. As Huntsman supporters learn that, they will come our way."
Bangerter does pick up more of his own party's vote in the latest poll. Jones found that 45 percent of those who said they are Republicans support Bangerter, 38 support Wilson, 9 percent Cook, 2 percent someone else and 6 percent don't know.
Last November, Jones found that 43 percent of the Republicans wanted Bangerter re-elected and 42 percent wanted Wilson.
Republican leaders have said for some time that Bangerter will be helped by the presidential race this year that Utah Republicans who have deserted him now won't split the ballot and vote for the Democrat Wilson. But Jones' poll found that 41 percent of the people who would vote for Vice President George Bush for president, the Republican's nominee, would vote for Wilson for governor.