U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who now says he will run for re-election next year unless something happens to change his mind, is underwater in his favorability ratings, a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows.

The new survey by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 48 percent of Utahns have an unfavorable opinion of Hatch, who is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history.

Forty-six percent approve of Hatch.

Four percent have heard of him, but have no opinion of him.

And 1 percent have never heard of Utah’s senior senator.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah – who was down in the polls just two years ago – has bounced back after his November re-election.

Jones finds that 50 percent have a favor opinion of Lee, while 37 percent don’t like him.

That’s a 13 percentage plus rating, compared to Hatch’s -3 percentage point rating.

 

An officeholder never wants a negative favorability rating, although Hatch has 18 months to turn that around.

Hatch has gone back and forth on his 2018 race.

He promised in his 2012 re-election campaign – where he was forced into an embarrassing primary race for the GOP nomination – that he would not run in 2018, but retire.

Now he says too many folks are relying on him, including his church – the LDS Church.

It is perhaps no coincidence that in a recent TV interview Hatch mentioned the Mormon Church. Jones finds that one of the few demographic groups whose majority have a favorable opinion of Hatch are “very active” Mormons – 59 percent say they have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable opinion of the senator, 35 percent of good Mormons don’t like him, and 6 percent have heard of the senator but have no opinion.

Anyway, Hatch looks at his standing in various polls; it can’t be encouraging for him.

Some examples:

  • Hatch is below 50 percent approval rating – something he probably wouldn’t have believed a decade ago, or back in the 1990s, when he regularly polled near 70 percent approval or even higher.

  • While 46 percent of Utahns approve of Hatch, only 15 percent “strongly” favor him.

  • On the other side, 48 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him – but 30 percent have a “very” unfavorable opinion of the senator.

That’s 2-to-1 very unfavorable over very favorable.

Yes, most Republicans have a favorable opinion of Hatch, but that's to be expected.

Jones finds that Hatch has a 68-26 percent favorable among the Utah GOP.

But Lee has a 71-16 favorable among Republicans – a +55 rating compared to Hatch’s +42.

One would guess Hatch is not well liked by Democrats. And that’s the case:

  • 83 percent of Utah Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of Hatch – who has been a strong supporter of GOP President Donald Trump.

  • But 65 percent of political independents have an unfavorable opinion of Hatch, only 29 percent favorable.

This is important.

Yes, if Hatch is the GOP nominee he likely will win an eighth term in the Senate.

But he will need some independent votes, for counting just on Utah Republicans may not be enough next year, especially if Trump continues to struggle in his presidency.

Former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman is thinking about running for the Senate next year. A previous Jones poll finds that 65 percent of Utahns want Huntsman to run for the Senate, with 68 percent of independents wanting him to run.

That is a big political shadow Hatch may walk into in 2018.

Here is another interesting demographic number in the new poll on Hatch:

  • It is true that 58 percent of those who self-identified themselves as “very conservative” politically have a favorable opinion of Hatch.

  • But 63 percent of those who said they are “somewhat conservative” give Hatch a favorable rating.

For a normal Utah Republican that likely is upside down – more very conservatives would like the guy than the “somewhat” conservatives.

Look at Lee: 81 percent of the very conservatives like Lee, while only 66 percent of the somewhat conservatives do.

So, Hatch does worse among the very conservatives, better among the somewhat conservatives.

That’s because to some degree the “very conservative” Utahns are tired of Hatch – who has been in office 41 years.

And the federal governor has gone into trillions of dollars of debt and grown immensely during that time. (Although Hatch says he has been fighting the conservative cause all the while.)

Tea Party Utahns helped put Lee into office seven years ago – and defeated former Sen. Bob Bennett in the state Republican Convention.

Tea Partiers favor Lee, 82-8 percent in the new poll.

They favor Hatch only 55-48 percent.

So, Hatch has problems on his political right, and Democrats and independents are against him.

His support lies with conservative-to-moderate Republicans, but not the right wing of his party.

Still, with the power of the incumbency and $3.5 million in his campaign war chest, without a strong, well-funded Republican to challenge him, Hatch must be considered the front-runner going into 2018 – assuming he decides to stay in the race.

Jones polled 844 adults from March 22-29. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.37 percent.