Utahns love President Bush.

And good feelings for the GOP-run federal government apparently translate into high approval ratings for U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a survey conducted last month that 82 percent strongly or somewhat approve of the job Bush is doing as president. Just 17 percent disapprove; only 1 percent have no opinion.

Hatch gets a 76 percent approval rating; Bennett 73 percent, Jones found. Both of those are likely records for Utah's two GOP senators.

Bush's 82 percent rating is nearly historic. Gov. Mike Leavitt reached those heights in the mid-1990s as Utah's economy was doing well, state tax cuts were given and the Olympics loomed.

Actually, only another Bush clearly topped the current president: His father George H.W. Bush in 1991. Following the successful Gulf War in March of that year, Utahns gave the former president a 95 percent approval rating.

But such love can be fleeting. By December 1991, then-President Bush's approval rating in Utah had dropped to 68 percent. And 55 percent of Utahns disapproved of the way Bush was handling domestic issues, a Jones survey found then.

While the senior Bush carried Utah handily in the 1992 election, he lost the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton, whose campaign strategy was summed up by "It's the economy, stupid."

The current President Bush hopes for a better outcome in his re-election in 2004. Almost certainly he will carry Utah, getting its five Electoral College votes. And just this past week Bush got a domestic lift, getting a $300-plus-billion tax cut plan through Congress.

Before the Iraqi War, Bush had a 58 percent job approval rating across the nation, a national Gallup Poll found. Just after the war began, Bush's approval rating jumped to 71 percent, another Gallup Poll showed.

Bush's approval ratings have been dropping this spring, however. But he still remains popular in Utah, the new newspaper survey shows.

Bennett, who will run for a third, six-year term next year, has shown constant improvement over the years in Jones' job-approval surveys. His new 73 percent approval rating is his highest. In 1999, Jones marked him at a 63 percent approval rating; Bennett had a 56 percent approval rating in a 1997 survey.

Bennett, who ran what is now Franklin Covey before his 1992 election, became a millionaire through his stock in the time management firm. He spent more than $1 million of his own money in his first campaign. He faced only token opposition from a Salt Lake surgeon, Democrat Scott Leckman, in 1998. No Democrat has yet stepped forward to say they will run against Bennett next year.

Hatch's 76 percent approval rating puts him at the top end of his popularity. In 1999, Jones found 72 percent of Utahns approved of the job he was doing. Hatch was at 70 percent in 1997.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com