Poll: Reid's popularity falls among Nevadans

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's appeal among Nevadans has plunged dramatically in a new Review-Journal poll, which finds him viewed unfavorably by most likely voters in his home state.

Reid is still slightly more well-liked than Gov. Jim Gibbons. Both the Democratic senator and the Republican governor are less favorably viewed than President Bush.

"Fortunately for Reid, he doesn't have to run for re-election for a while," said Brad Coker, managing partner of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based firm that conducted the poll. If they decide to run again, Reid's name won't be on the ballot until 2010, nor will Gibbons'.

The poll asked 625 likely voters from around the state whether they recognized a politician's name, and if so, if they had a favorable, unfavorable or neutral opinion of that person. The survey carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Reid's favorable rating was 32 percent, compared with 51 percent unfavorable and 15 percent neutral. Gibbons was viewed favorably by 30 percent, Bush by 34 percent.

The Review-Journal last asked Nevadans their opinion of Reid in early May. At that time, he was seen favorably by 46 percent and unfavorably by 42 percent.

Even that was seen as alarming for Reid because his favorability did not top 50 percent and because the difference between the two numbers was only 4 percentage points. It continued a slide for Reid that coincides with his taking the Democratic leadership after his re-election in 2004, with 61 percent of the vote.

The new poll marks the first time the Review-Journal has measured Reid's unfavorable rating higher than his favorable number.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas political scientist David Damore said Reid's position as top Democrat -- the first Nevadan to lead his party in the Senate -- continues to hurt him, as it makes him a punching bag for Republicans nationally. Especially now that Reid leads the majority party that is at odds with the White House, he is visible as never before.

"That's what happens to these guys who become the party spokesperson and get all the national attention, particularly someone who's coming from a state that's not as liberal as his party," Damore said.

Voters' opinion of Reid was starkly partisan. Just 2 percent of Republicans viewed him favorably, 90 percent unfavorably. Among Democrats, the numbers were 62 percent and 16 percent; with independents, they were 31 percent and 44 percent.

A Reid spokesman said the Nevadan was taking the hit for a more general dissatisfaction.

"Nevadans, like all Americans, want to bring an end to the war in Iraq, and everyone in Congress is being held accountable for the president's inaction and Republican obstructionism," Jon Summers said.

"People were excited (after the 2006 election) about the Democrats taking the majority in Congress. I think they thought we would somehow have the ability to end the war as soon as we took the majority. That's unfortunately not how it works," he said.

Reid absolutely is running again in 2010 but was "not focusing on that right now," Summers said. "He's heavily focused on the war in Iraq."

Summers also suggested the poll did not accurately reflect views of Reid.

Reid's staff provided an internal poll conducted for Reid by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman in early August, which was not made public at the time because it was intended as an internal barometer. That poll of 600 voters statewide had 56 percent approving of Reid, 40 percent disapproving.

Unfortunately for Gibbons, his dismal rating is nothing new. The first-term governor was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, has been plagued with scandals and has drawn criticism for multiple political miscues.

Various independent pollsters have put Gibbons' approval or favorability rating at 29 percent in March, 30 percent in April and 28 percent in May.

A poll commissioned by the Nevada Republican Party in June, just after the legislative session concluded, put him up to 49 percent. But that result now looks like a blip. In August, Gibbons was measured at 33 percent, and the new poll has him at 30 percent.

Twenty-nine percent of poll respondents viewed Gibbons unfavorably in the new poll, while 38 percent had a neutral opinion. Even among Republicans, only 42 percent viewed Gibbons positively; 45 percent were neutral, and 12 percent had a negative view.

"That's the status quo for him, and he doesn't seem to be able to do anything to change it," Damore said. Hovering around 30 percent is an abysmal place for a politician to be, especially early in his term, he said.

Gibbons spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said she did not think Gibbons' numbers "adequately represent the entire state of Nevada."

"As we have always stated, we do not govern by polls," she said. "They don't determine how we are going to move forward with our administration. We traveled around every county these past couple of months, and the feedback was exceptionally positive. We had huge attendance at all of our functions."

Bush's 34 percent was on par with his national approval rating, which currently averages about 32.5 percent, according to Pollster.com. It was slightly down from the last Review-Journal measurement in May, which put the president at 36 percent among Nevadans.

Other public officials whose favorability was measured by the Review-Journal included the following:

• Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman: 42 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable, 28 percent neutral. Goodman, a Democrat, fared better among Republicans, just 9 percent of whom viewed him negatively. Perhaps distressingly for the publicity-seeking mayor, 13 percent of those polled did not know his name.

• Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.: 51 percent favorable, 19 percent unfavorable, 25 percent neutral. The recently re-elected Republican remains popular at home despite taking a partisan leadership position as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

• Former President Clinton: 51 percent favorable, 37 percent unfavorable, 12 percent neutral. That was the inverse of his wife's numbers: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was seen favorably by 38 percent and unfavorably by 51 percent.

"That's the ironic thing, isn't it?" Damore said. Somehow, the former president is associated in voters' minds with peace and prosperity, while the former first lady is seen as shrill and calculating.

"He's the best politician of his generation, Mr. Ambassador Feel-Good-at-Large; she's seen as doing everything only for her own political convenience." Fortunately, he noted, Hillary Clinton has Bill Clinton to campaign for her.

• Right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh: 34 percent favorable, 50 percent unfavorable, 15 percent neutral. Limbaugh, who recently has sparred with Reid in a battle played out on both the airwaves and the Senate floor, had strikingly similar numbers to the Democratic senator's.

"That's how polarizing Harry Reid has become," Coker said. "But Rush is trying to be polarizing. Reid just does it anyway."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2919.