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Poll: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s job approval ratings are already climbing

SHARE Poll: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s job approval ratings are already climbing
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Gov. Spencer Cox poses for a photo in his office at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that the new governor’s approval ratings have already improved over last month.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — He’s not even two months into the job, but Utahns are already giving Gov. Spencer Cox higher job performance approval ratings than the month before.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows a healthy majority — 63% — of Utahns approve of Cox’s job performance so far, with 24% saying they strongly approve and 39% saying they somewhat approve. That’s while only 22% say they disapprove, with 15% saying they somewhat disapprove and only 7% strongly disapprove.

For about 15% of Utahns, they’re still unsure how they feel about the new governor.

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The new poll shows Cox in just a matter of weeks increased his job approval ratings, up from 55% who said they approved in a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll from mid-January.

The new poll released Friday, conducted by pollster Scott Rasmussen, was of 1,000 Utah registered voters from Feb. 10-16, less than two months after Cox took office in January. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

That January poll was “promising” for Cox, said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute, but the new poll results released Friday bode even better for the new governor.

“It’s a good sign for Gov. Cox,” Perry said. “He has to be pleased with these numbers.”

Cox, when asked about how he himself feels about his job performance as governor so far in a virtual media availability on Friday, was sheepish in his answer.

“I don’t know, we just put our head down and go to work,” he said, smiling. “I think we’re doing OK. ... I feel good.”

Cox pointed to the state’s vaccination rollout, noting that while there have been “some bumps along the way,” he said he’s “really proud of everyone that stepped up ... to get us from the bottom of the country to the top of the country.”

“I’m really excited about the direction our (COVID-19 case) numbers are headed,” Cox added, pointing to the state’s declining coronavirus positivity rate. “I think in judging what we’re doing it has to be around the pandemic.”

Cox said his time these days is split 50% between the pandemic and the Utah Legislature’s 2021 session. “That puts a lot on the plate of the rest of my team,” Cox said, thanking them for their hard work.

Ultimately, Cox said, “I’ll leave it up to Utahns to judge how we’re doing,” he said. “We’re giving it everything we’ve got.”

Asked specifically about the poll numbers Friday, Cox spokeswoman Jennifer Napier-Pearce told the Deseret News the ratings are encouraging.

“We’re working hard to get as many Utahns vaccinated as soon as possible, so we’re heartened the majority of Utahns recognize the governor’s efforts,” she said.

The poll shows Cox’s ratings are all “trending in the right direction,” Perry said, noting that the new governor appears to have won hearts from a fair share of those Utahns who were undecided about him a month ago.

Cox’s management of the pandemic is likely “at the heart” of Cox’s high approval ratings so far, Perry said.

“Right now at the top of everyone’s mind is how can we take care of the vaccinations in the state of Utah,” Perry said. “And the reality is the majority of Utahns feel like Gov. Cox is doing a very good job.”

The poll shows Utahns’ ratings of Cox break out more modestly when they were asked specifically about his job performance handling the COVID-19 pandemic. About 53% gave him more favorable ratings, including 20% saying his handling has been “excellent” and 33% labeling his management “good.” About 23% rated Cox’s performance “fair,” while only 12% rated it as “poor.” About 13% said they aren’t sure.

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Those slightly lower ratings aren’t surprising, Perry said, when considering how politically tricky emergencies can be for governors to navigate. But he noted that Cox’s numbers are “still high in comparison to other states where governors across the country are facing huge backlash” on their handling of the pandemic, including vaccine rollout plans.

“The reality is, most people in the state of Utah feel like Gov. Cox is leading us in the right direction,” Perry said.

What’s also noteworthy, Perry said, is Cox appears to be maintaining favorability from across party lines.

His approval ratings are fairly similar from both Democrats and Republicans, with 40% of Republicans and even a slightly higher 41% of Democrats saying they “somewhat approve” of Cox’s job performance, according to the poll.

About 29% of Republicans say they “strongly approve” of Cox’s performance, while 18% of Democrats say they “strongly approve.” Disapproval ratings are also similar by party affiliation, with 11% of Republicans and 18% of Democrats saying they “somewhat disapprove,” while only 8% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats say they “strongly disapprove.”

About 13% of Republicans and 17% of Democrats say they’re undecided.

“Gov. Cox seems to be finding that right balance,” Perry said, noting that that’s likely related to the reality that the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting everyone, regardless of party. “And so Republicans and Democrats both feel like Cox is doing a good job handling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Like January’s poll, Friday’s survey results show Cox’s critics remain in the minority — including those from within his own party. That’s even though anti-mask mandate protesters last year showed up outside of Cox’s Fairview house and lined the street to Cox’s inauguration ceremony near St. George. The poll continues to show those Utahns are a part of a vocal minority.