Could Utah’s reputation be hurting Mitt Romney?
Each year, the Utah office of Tourism spends millions in advertising to bolster the state’s image and lure people here on visits. Last year, its budget was cut to about $7 million, a sign of hard times in state budgets, but officials say tourism still accounted for $842 million in state and local tax revenues in 2011.
That’s no small amount in a state with a lot of natural beauty to offer. And yet most Americans apparently hate the place.
Public Policy Polling just published results of a survey conducted over four months, beginning last October. People were asked to provide their general impressions of each of the 50 states. (Read the poll here.)
Given what I’ve observed about people from traveling this nation, a lot of them have no clue about a lot of states (quick, what’s your impression of North Dakota? Delaware?). So it’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of the states ended up with mostly favorable ratings in this poll. Absent a reason to feel negatively, most people probably default to positive impressions.
Only five states were found to have higher negative ratings than positive. Utah was one of them, with 24 percent expressing favorable impressions and 27 percent negative.
The interesting thing is that other Mountain West states were among the most favorably rated in the nation. Colorado finished second, and Idaho also had strong positives. California came in dead last, but the split there was sharply divided among Republicans and Democrats — there’s no extra credit for guessing which party dislikes it the most.
But Utah scored low even when the results were broken down by political views. Republicans like the state by a small margin, while Democrats dislike it by a large margin. But while it might not be a surprise that the very liberal dislike Utah, the very conservative feel mostly the same way.
It’s easy to make too much of a poll like this, which has heavy political undertones, but the results can be instructive in a political sense.
John Hinderbaker at Powerlineblog.com says the poll might lend understanding into why Mitt Romney is struggling.
“I can’t think of any reason (for Utah’s high negatives) other than anti-Mormon bias. This is borne out by the fact that liberals and Democrats, who are most prone to ethnic and religious bigotry, are the ones who actively dislike Utah,” he wrote. “…One wonders whether these numbers explain some of the dynamics of the current GOP primary season, and whether they suggest a lingering anti-LDS prejudice that could be a problem for Mitt Romney, if he is the Republican nominee, in November.”
Anti-Mormon prejudice is the often-ignored elephant in corner of the elephant party’s nominating circus, so Utah’s bad showing may indeed be affecting the former Massachusetts governor.
Meanwhile, the Legislature may want to think about increasing that tourism budget.