Utahns are conservative but pragmatic. Utahns expect effectiveness and efficiency and results out of their government, not ideological tantrums. —Kirk Jowers
SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Utahns don't believe it was worth shutting down the federal government to fight President Barack Obama's new health care law and most blame Republicans just as much as Democrats, according to a new Deseret News/KSL poll.
Nearly half of the Utahns surveyed also disapprove of the tea party's influence on the shutdown that began Tuesday, and more than one-third disapprove of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a leader in the battle that led to the budget impasse.
"Utahns are conservative but pragmatic," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Utahns expect effectiveness and efficiency and results out of their government, not ideological tantrums."
Lee said in a statement that the only numbers he's concerned with are the percentages of Utahns "feeling the negative effects of Obamacare through lost jobs, wages, hours and health care.
"I am here in Washington working to pass bills that will fund the government and protect our citizens from harmful policy. I am going to continue to fight for Utahns and let others worry about polls," the senator said.
The poll found that 56 percent of Utahns disagreed it was worth shutting down the government as part of the effort by Lee and other members of the tea party caucus, and just 37 percent agreed.
And while 21 percent of Utahns blamed the Democratic president for the furloughs of federal workers, closed national parks and other impacts of the shutdown, nearly as many, 20 percent, said it was the fault of Republicans in Congress.
Only 6 percent named Democrats in Congress as bearing the blame for the shutdown. Most of the Utahns surveyed, 41 percent, said Obama and both parties in Congress were equally to blame.
The poll of 410 Utahns statewide, conducted Oct. 3 by Dan Jones & Associates, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Jowers said the poll shows Utahns "are getting beyond parties and partisan name-calling, and getting to results. At this point, the people of Utah don't want to be bothered with who's fault it is. They want government to begin functioning."
But state GOP Chairman James Evans said Utahns just don't understand from the way the shutdown is being covered by the media that Democrats are at fault for not accepting a budget bill that didn't include funding for the health care law.
Evans said Lee, whose approval rating in the poll was 43 percent compared with a 35 percent disapproval rating, has "taken on some very controversial issues, so with that you are going to end up with some negatives."
That will change, the Republican leader said, "over time, as people come to understand what he's doing, the stance he's taken." Evans said politicians who remain committed to their cause through tough times can "end up becoming heroes."
Pollster Dan Jones said Lee is clearly getting attention for his efforts, but it could end up hurting the state's junior senator.
"There is no question that Mike Lee got some name identification from what he's doing," Jones said. "He needs to watch his negatives because he could be vulnerable if he seeks re-election."
Lee was first elected in 2010 in a contentious race that saw the ouster of longtime Utah senator Bob Bennett at the hands of tea party Republicans. Although Lee's term doesn't end until 2016, there is already talk he'll face a GOP challenge.
Jones said Lee "is going to have to compromise" at some point to bolster his support.
"I believe the tea party is not as strong in Utah as many political consultants felt," the pollster said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said he wasn't surprised by the poll results.
"When you come right down to it, the people of Utah are about common sense. This Mike Lee kind of extremism, shutting down the government because I don't get my way, just doesn't play in Utah," Dabakis said.
Dabakis, who is also a state senator, said that's proven by the approval ratings for the state's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson. Fifty-seven percent of Utahns approve of Matheson, while 29 percent disapprove.
Matheson had joined other members of the delegation in supporting budget bills that attempted to stall or stop the health care law, but now is backing a bipartisan push to pass a bill with funding for the law to stop the shutdown.
"If the country were to listen to the Jim Mathesons instead of the Mike Lees, we wouldn't have these problems," Dabakis said. "That's what people in Utah are really desperate for, to have the idealogues step away."