Hickenlooper for vice president in 2016?

Don’t be surprised, poll says

John Hickenlooper is proving to be one of the most popular governors in the country, according to a poll conducted this month by Public Policy Polling (PPP) which shows that 54 percent of Colorado voters approve of him to only 24 percent who disapprove. That +30 net approval spread makes him the third most popular sitting governor out of 42 which PPP has polled on, putting him behind only Nebraska’s Dave Heineman and Arkansas’ Mike Beebe.

Hickenlooper’s very popular with Democrats at 73/11, that’s a given, the poll acknowledges. And his strong numbers with independents at 49/29 are no surprise either. What sets him apart from most other governors is that he nearly breaks even across party lines, with 34 percent of Republicans approving of him and only 37 percent disapproving. It’s very unusual to see that in these highly polarized political times.

If — and it’s a big if just seven months into office — Hickenlooper can keep up these sorts of numbers he seems bound to be in the 2016 discussion either as a presidential or vice presidential candidate. Not a lot of purple state governors with this kind of popularity.

Hickenlooper’s always been popular. New to the popularity game is Michael Bennet, who 44 percent of voters now give good marks to compared to 36 percent who think he’s doing a bad job. Bennet’s mostly had bad approval numbers since being appointed in 2009. Even right before he got reelected last year PPP found him with only a 39 percent approval rating while 47 percent of voters disapproved of him. But folks seem to have warmed up to him since he won the full term.

One person they haven’t warmed up to is his 2010 opponent, Ken Buck. According to PPP, only 25 percent of voters now express a favorable opinion of Buck to 46 percent with an unfavorable one. And in a hypothetical rematch voters say they would pick Bennet by a 55-38 margin over Buck, quite a contrast from his razor thin margin of victory last fall. Those numbers would seem to suggest increasing trepidation from Colorado voters about a Tea Party candidate, speaking of which...

Only 38 percent of voters in Colorado now have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party to 49 percent who see it unfavorably. It’s predictable that Republicans (74/10) pretty universally have a positive opinion of it while Democrats (11/79) pretty universally have a negative opinion of it. What tips the scales is that it’s quite unpopular with independents, a majority of whom (51 percent) don't care for the movement to 36 percent who see it favorably.

Running as a Tea Party candidate isn’t going to be a very good idea for Republicans in Colorado next year, at least when it comes to the general election.

Colorado voters will be deciding in November whether to enact a slight increase in the sales and income taxes to provide more money for education and right now they're very closely divided on the proposal. 45 percent of voters say they're inclined to support it while 47 percent are opposed. Independents support it by a 48/44 margin and usually that would make the difference but Republicans (21/73) are more unified in their opposition to the proposal than Democrats are in their support (63/29). Convincing more Democrats to be supportive may be the key to its passage.

Looking toward 2012, Colorado voters may have the chance to vote on whether to legalize marijuana and for now a majority of voters are in support of that — 51 percent compared to 38 percent opposed to legalization. Independents are strongly in favor of this proposal (55/31) and there are actually more Republicans in support of it (31 percent) than there are Democrats opposed (24 percent).

These are encouraging numbers for legalization proponents but it’s important to remember that California’s proposal for legalizing marijuana last year polled pretty well until completely collapsing in the final month before the election. There’s a long road ahead.

Colorado voters are evenly divided on allowed gay couples to marry, but when civil unions are given as an option they're strongly supportive of extending some form of legal recognition to same sex couples. 45 percent of voters support gay marriage to 45 percent opposed. Independents are strongly in favor (54/33) but like on the tax issue Republicans are more strongly against it (73 percent) than Democrats are in support (64 percent). Still these numbers are indicative of the fast moving shift in public opinion on gay marriage. Just five years ago Colorado voters supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman by a 56/44 margin.

With civil unions in the mix 71 percent of voters support some legal recognition for gay couples to only 27 percent completely opposed. Of that 71 percent, 40 percent say full marriage rights are their first choice with another 31 percent saying civil unions would be their preference. 76 percent of independents and even 57 percent of Republicans support extending more right to same sex couples.

Quick hits: U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s approval rating is 45/34, solid numbers. Democrats lead the generic Congressional ballot 45/40, reflecting what we’re seeing in our polls nationally. The passage of time is not helping resurrect Scott McInnis’ image, with only 14 percent of voters rating him favorably to 31 percent with a negative opinion. Tom Tancredo's unpopular as well with a 30 percent positive rating and 43 percent of voters rating him unfavorably. Most surprising thing in those numbers is the 26 percent with no opinion — how can you be ambivalent on Tom Tancredo? And 32 percent of voters think prostitution should be legal to 56 percent illegal. We were prompted to ask that question after surprisingly finding that Democrats, Republicans, and independents in Nevada all thought that it should be legal. But we found the opposite in Colorado with voters across party lines all thinking that it should be illegal. Nevada's an island unto itself, at least on that front.

PPP surveyed 510 Colorado voters from August 4 to 7. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.3 percent. The poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews.

PPP is considered a left-leaning or Democratic polling company.