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Owens Bests “Mentor” Bush in Approval Rating

Bill Owens, who considers himself a George W. Bush-style governor, has bested his mentor and friend by nine points in Colorado voter approval, according to a recent Ciruli Associates poll. Owens begins his re-election with a 65 percent voter-approval rating. Fifty-six percent of Colorado voters approve of President Bush’s job performance.

Question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?
Question: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bill Owens is handling his job as governor?

Recent national polls have shown a drop in President Bush’s support. A June 2001 New York Times poll gave Bush a 53 percent job approval rating, down seven percentage points from the Times’ March poll. The Wall Street Journal/NBC June 2001 survey gave Bush a 50 percent approval rating, which also was a decline.

The Colorado survey was conducted by Ciruli Associates June 25-28, 2001, with 452 residents likely to vote in the 2002 general election. The gubernatorial survey questions were sponsored and published by The Denver Post. This analysis is the sole responsibility of Ciruli Associates.

Owens and Bush have similar approaches to their goals: propose a few priority issues and fight doggedly for success. Owens for example took on tax cuts, transportation, school reform and school funding during his first three years. He is largely viewed as having delivered. Bush, as Texas governor and now as president, keeps only a few issues on his radar screen (taxes being the main example).

Gov. Owens’ only significant failure has been the growth legislation stalemate. Although voters are losing patience, Owens has managed to maintain credibility by offering proposals, encouraging compromise and calling special sessions.

Taking The Political Test

Both Bush and Owens receive high marks for leadership. Fifty percent of voters gave Owens an “A” or “B;” 46 percent did the same for Bush. Among issues, Bush was given top marks on cutting taxes (55% “A” or “B”) and Owens received his highest grades on education (40% “A” or “B”).

Performance "A" & "B" "D" & "F" Performance "A" & "B" "D" & "F"
Cutting Taxes 55% 17% Leadership 50% 16%
Leadership 46% 28% Education 40% 22%
Defense 43% 22% Transportation 38% 23%
Education 34% 27% Cutting taxes 33% 17%
Economy 33% 34% Growth 28% 32%
Environment 21% 46%
Ciruli Associates, N452, June 2001

Question: Please rate the performance of President George W. Bush on the following issues as an A, B, C, D or F: cutting taxes, improving the environment, improving education, improving the economy, improving national defense, offering strong leadership [responses rotated].

Next, let me ask you to rate Governor Bill Owens’ performance on the following issues as an A, B, C, D or F: cutting taxes, managing growth, improving transportation, improving education, offering strong leadership [responses rotated].

Bush received very poor reviews among Colorado voters on improving the environment, and he received some blame for the economic slowdown. As mentioned, the governor earned his lowest grade for growth management.

Owens Tops The List

Gov. Owens dominates Colorado politics. When asked to rate their impression of a list of Colorado politicians, two-thirds gave Owens a favorable rating—the highest of those tested.

Favorability Ratings
Favorable Unfavorable Don't
Owens 65% 29% 6%
Allard 57% 22% 21%
Bush 57% 38% 6%
Webb 53% 28% 19%
Strickland 48% 14% 38%
Matsunaka 17% 8% 75%
Heath 3% 3% 93%
Ciruli Associates, N452, June 2001

Question: As I read the following list of political leaders and candidates, please tell me your impression of them—whether you think very favorably of them, somewhat favorably, you think somewhat unfavorably or very unfavorably of them. If you aren’t familiar with them, or don’t have an opinion, just say so: US Senator Wayne Allard, President George W. Bush, Gov. Bill Owens, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, Former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, State Senator Stan Matsunaka, Businessman Rollie Heath. [names rotated]

Approvals for President Bush and Gov. Owens are close to their favorability ratings, which is common. Significant divergence can be a problem for a politician. The most famous recent example was President Clinton, who maintained job approval ratings in the 60 percent range but personal favorability in the 30s.

Two potential political opponents to Owens, State Sen. Stan Matsunaka and Boulder businessman Rollie Heath, have too-little statewide voter identity to draw many observations.

Election Preview

Bill Owens will be difficult for Democrats to defeat. Incumbent governors are normally re-elected unless there is widespread dissatisfaction with his or her performance, or a political or economic crisis riles voters. He has hewed to the middle of the political spectrum on such key issues as guns and education funding, while still maintaining most of his conservative base. He handles the state’s media with a deft touch and his fund-raising has put more than $2 million in the bank.

1998 Governor Race
Owens vs. Schoettler
Votes Precent
Owens 648,202 49%
Schoettler 639,905 48%
Ciruli Associates, 2001

wens should not expect a landslide win given his narrow victory in 1998, but at this time he is strongly positioned. When matched against Owens in this survey, Matsunaka, the potential Democrat candidate with the highest name recognition, captured only 26 percent to Owens’ 51 percent (22 percent undecided). Fifty-one percent is not a safe margin for Owens. But to the governor’s advantage, Matsunaka is identified by only 25 percent of voters and received only base Democrat support. In addition, Owens can expect to win a reasonable share of undecided voters, which would give him a comfortable 55 percent to 59 percent as of today.

The challenge for Democrats: Find a candidate strong enough who—even if he can’t beat Owens—will stop him from spending his time and money helping other Republicans, especially in legislative races. The main theme Democrats appear to be using—vision—was tested in the 2001 legislative session. They claim Owens lacks a vision for the state. They cite transportation, and say the administration lacks a plan and financing for the state’s transportation needs. Traffic congestion and gridlock are indeed top concerns among voters, whether Democrats will successfully blame Owens for ignoring the problem will be one of the defining issues of the campaign.

Voter Registration—A Flexible Framework

Voter registration in Colorado today indicates that out of 2.7 million registered voters, 36 percent are Republican, 33 percent unaffiliated and 30 percent Democrat. However, when likely voters are asked their usual party identity, only 21 percent say they are truly independent. Most voters offer some partisan leanings. And considering all the leaners, Democrats and Republicans are virtually tied for voter loyalties (39% Democrat to 40% Republican). Republicans have more strong partisan identifiers (20 percent compared to 15 percent of voters who say “strong Democrat” is their affiliation).

Question: Considering political parties, do you usually identify yourself as a: strong Democrat, not very strong Democrat, Independent-leaning Democrat, Independent, Independent-leaning Republican, not very strong Republican, strong Republican?

Candidates in Colorado must remain mindful that 47 percent of voters have no or very weak partisan preferences—making Colorado a volatile electorate.

Registration and the November 2002 Election

Applying party identities to voter preference for candidates shows why, at least in this early test, Gov. Owens holds a sizable lead and the U.S. Senate race is so close.

Owens receives support from 18 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans. Sen. Matsunaka’s poor showing among Democrats and true independents is partially a reflection of his low public identity, but also indicates that Owens has made himself acceptable to a majority of independents and a higher-than-normal number of Democrats.

Party Identity and the
US Senate and Gubernatorial Races
(Strong & Lean)
(Strong & Lean)
Owens 18% 52% 82%
Matsunaka 56% 11% 5%
Allard 6% 35% 79%
Strickland 80% 34% 9%
Ciruli Associates, N452, June 2001

Allard and Strickland are extremely closely matched; they are splitting the independent voters equally and taking similar shares of each other’s parties. The early prediction is that the race will become very negative as each side goes after the other to win independents. Also, Republicans will have to make a prodigious effort to turn out partisans who register Republican but say at this time they are insufficiently interested to vote.

  • Telephone survey of 452 Colorado adult registered voters likely to vote in the November 2002 general election. Selection by random digit dialing with a random sample of statewide area telephone exchanges gave all Colorado residents telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, an equal chance of being included. The most recent birthday method was used to randomly select members of the household to interview. Respondents were screened to identify likely registered voters.

  • Statistical range of accuracy in 19 out of 20 cases is ±4.6 percentage points for a sample size of 452. Sample tolerances for subgroups are larger. For example, the confidence interval for a subgroup of 250 respondents is ±6.2 percentage points.

  • Due to rounding, not all totals equal 100 percent. Survey results can be affected by other factors such as question wording and order.

  • For additional copies of this report contact Ciruli Associates.

Permission to quote or reprint is granted provided the source, Ciruli Associates, is credited. Ciruli Associates • 1129 1/2 Pennsylvania St. • Denver, CO 80203 • PH (303) 399-3173 • FAX (303) 399-3147. For additional information on Colorado politics, log on to Ciruli Associates’ website: www.ciruli.com.

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