Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox appears to be wrapping up his second year in office with solid support among Utah voters.
In the last 12 months he's vetoed a ban on transgender girls in high school sports, fell into Tucker Carlson's crosshairs, backed a lawsuit challenging the Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments, signed millions of dollars in tax cuts and a number of water-related bills, all while firing off a few controversial tweets.
Now, the governor is heading into 2023 with a 63% approval rating, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. About 23% say they strongly approve, and 40% somewhat approve.
Meanwhile 30% say they disapprove — 19% somewhat disapprove with 11% saying they strongly disapprove. About 7% answered "don't know."
That's a slight bump since April, when a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll put Cox's approval rating at 58%, with 31% saying they disapprove of his job performance.
"Gov. Cox has been working hard to strengthen Utah families, to keep our economy strong and to ensure we all can enjoy a high quality of life now and far into the future," said Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Cox's spokesperson. "We're grateful that the majority of Utahns see those efforts and support his vision."
Generally speaking, Cox's approval rating mirrors that of his predecessors, who mostly enjoyed a majority approval rating around 60%, give or take a few percentage points. That includes former Gov. Gary Herbert, who toward the end of his tenure had support from 65% of voters, according to a prior Deseret News poll.
"Conservative but relatively moderate politics — that has been practiced by Jon Huntsman, by Gary Herbert, and now by Spencer Cox — is popular in the state," said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
Cox, a Republican, has more support among registered GOP voters, 66% of whom approve of his performance compared to 48% of Democrats surveyed.
However, when broken down along political ideology, Cox finds the most support among voters who identify as somewhat liberal at 74%. In April, only 48% of that same demographic approved of Cox as governor.
"He has a delicate dance to do here, in the sense that he wants to position himself as firmly conservative, but it's not MAGA conservatism," said Karpowitz. "I think these high approval ratings reflect the fact that he seems to be threading that needle pretty well right now."
Respondents who claim they are somewhat conservative gave Cox a 67% approval rating.
About 51% of respondents who say they're very liberal approve of Cox, the lowest of any political demographic, followed by voters who say they're very conservative at 57% and moderates at 59%.
Karpowitz likened it to the dilemma Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is dealing with, where just 10 years ago he appeared to be the standard-bearer for the GOP, but now faces increasing hostility from some of the country's most prominent conservatives, including former President Donald Trump.
"It's not a majority of the state, it's not even the majority of the Republican Party, but there's a set of people who are really frustrated with (Romney's) approach to Donald Trump and to impeachment," he said. "However, there's another set of people who themselves were troubled by Donald Trump. And Mitt Romney appeals to those folks who now identify as more moderate, maybe even liberal, within the state."
Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 802 registered Utah voters from Nov. 18-23. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.