Poll shows mass of dejected voters puts incumbents at risk

It may be hard to please all of the people all of the time, but if you're a Nevada legislator, it looks like you're not pleasing anybody, ever.

The Retail Association of Nevada released a poll Monday showing that residents of the Silver State worry more than ever about the future, and a sweeping majority believes that Nevada is on the wrong track. Nor do voters feel confident that state leaders can craft solutions to Nevada's lingering recession and the resulting budget woes.

"This is as angry and disappointed an electorate as I've seen," said Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, the Virginia consulting firm that conducted the survey. "All three of the state's leading political figures (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Gov. Jim Gibbons and Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid) have huge image problems. They are held in contempt."

And it's not a party thing: Republican Gibbons and Democrat Harry Reid have identical unfavorables, with both at 58 percent, the poll found.

To develop its numbers, Public Opinion Strategies questioned 500 likely Nevada voters on Feb. 15 and 16. The survey's margin of error is 4.38 percent.

A full 80 percent of voters polled said Nevada is on the wrong track -- an overwhelming result that Bolger said he's never seen in any state in 25 years of polling. Nearly 75 percent of Nevadans said they want to ditch their incumbent state legislator and give new blood a chance at the job, and that means some incumbents won't even survive their primaries, Bolger said. Voters seem even angrier than they were in 1990, after lawmakers boosted their own pensions by 300 percent, though public anger over the move eventually forced a reversal of the pension law.

Bolger blamed this latest showing for legislators on a worsening economic downturn. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they or people they know have lost a job or a home, or have taken a pay cut. That's up from 54 percent in May. When asked whether they think the economy will continue to struggle, 64 percent said the worst is still to come, up from 62 percent in May. Nearly half -- 46 percent -- ranked the economy as their top issue. Education came in a distant second, garnering the No. 1 vote among 20 percent of respondents.

But voters seem fuzzy on just how they want lawmakers to address the state's $887 million budget shortfall when the Legislature's special session begins today in Carson City.

Thirty-eight percent said they want spending cuts, while 47 percent said they want higher taxes. If taxes go up, 61 percent said they believe everyone should pay more in levies, while 17 percent picked casinos. And 16 percent opted for the rich, 12 percent chose big businesses and 9 percent wanted to pin higher taxes on mining companies. Nearly 80 percent said any tax increases should be temporary.

Asked how higher taxes might affect the economy, though, voters grew less enthusiastic about boosting levies and fees. Sixty percent said higher taxes would result in additional job losses. On picking a type of new tax, voters didn't like their options; just 16 percent favor an income tax on individuals, while 43 percent support an income tax on corporations.

Bolger said the poll also found that lawmakers have yet to sell voters on the idea that government is lean enough and they can make no additional spending cuts. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said the state budget remains rife with waste, fraud and abuse. Just 26 percent said spending cuts would hurt important programs. A majority -- 59 percent -- said Nevada's tax system mostly works well and called for only minor changes, while 33 percent said the state's tax system is unfair, doesn't properly fund government programs and must be changed.

When it comes to balancing the state budget, 53 percent of poll participants said they approved of a flat salary cut of 6 percent to 8 percent for all state workers, rather than the 4.6 percent cuts some workers have received. What's more, 73 percent support salary cuts for local government workers that would be in line with the pay reductions some state workers have faced.

Harry Reid failed to pass 40 percent in voter support against any candidate, including little-known banker John Chachas, a Nevada native and New York-based banker who only recently threw his hat in the ring.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, said in a statement that Reid's office remains focused on the November election.

"There is one poll that matters and it is eight months from now. This election is about a choice between competing visions for Nevada's future," Summers said. "When the Republicans select their nominee, voters will be able to clearly compare Senator Reid's proven track record delivering for Nevada, such as passing a new jobs bill and providing help for struggling homeowners; and the Republicans' opposition to anything that helps Nevadans in need."

The Public Opinion Strategies poll also shows Tea Party candidate Jon Ashjian splitting the Reid opposition by skimming off as much as 22 percent of the vote.

Bolger called Ashjian a potential "spoiler" in the race, with Ashjian's presence "significantly increasing (Reid's) chances" for re-election.

In the governor's race, Gibbons and his Democratic opponent, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, both suffer from negative ratings that outstrip their positives.

Gibbons' unfavorable rating of 58 percent compares, well, unfavorably with his approval rating of 29 percent. And Rory Reid's 37 percent unfavorable result exceeds his 23 percent approval rating. Still, Gibbons appears to have the higher mountain to climb, with 97 percent of voters saying they've heard of him. A smaller 79 percent share say they've heard of Rory Reid, giving the commissioner room to make additional impressions on voters.

Rory Reid's campaign spokesman, Mike Trask, downplayed the results

"A poll this early, we believe, is irrelevant," Trask said. "There are going to be a lot of polls done by a lot of people in the next eight months here, and what we're focused on is building a winning organization by reaching out to voters and volunteers all across the state. I think you've seen that from our campaign over the last six months to a year, and we're going to continue focusing on that."

Gibbons' campaign didn't respond by press time to a query seeking comment.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.