Here’s something that might make you spill your single-malt. VTDigger and the Castleton Polling Institute have released a new poll on Governor Shumlin’s job performance. And the news ain’t great.
Two years ago, Shumlin had the approval of 65% of respondents; only 23% disapproved of his performance. This time, it’s 49 positive, 40 negative, and the rest “Not Sure/No Opinion.”
Quite a swing, to be sure. Not enough to sway my belief that Shumlin will easily win re-election, but he might actually have to spend money this time. (And he’s got plenty to spend.)
After reporting the numbers, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway called upon Vermont Pundit Emeritus Eric Davis to divine the entrails. And he let loose with a veritable firehose of speculation, starting with the natural attrition that affects all incumbents, and moving quickly through the Jeremy Dodge land deal, Shumlin’s failure to produce a single-payer health plan, the state of the economy, his support for renewable energy, and his slowness to produce a Lake Champlain cleanup plan.
One of the Rules of Punditry: Give enough answers, you’re sure to hit the right one.
But actually, I think he left out one really big one — maybe the biggest of them all: widespread disaffection with the school-funding system. We saw a lot of it at Town Meeting Day; enough to force the Legislature to cut the proposed state property tax increase from 7% to 4%, and to begin seriously considering reform ideas for the tax or the entire education system.
That’s at the top of the issues affecting Shumlin’s ratings. Here’s the rest of my analysis, for what it’s worth.
After the jump: Eric Davis suffers a bout of Lismamnesia.
The 2012 poll caught the Governor at the best possible time. He had shown great leadership after Tropical Storm Irene. Not that you or I or anyone agrees with everything he did, but he did a lot of stuff and, in the process, looked extremely Gubernatorial. He couldn’t possibly have maintained a nearly 3:1 edge in popularity. So, on top of the incumbent’s natural attrition, add the inevitable deflation of the Irene Effect. That accounts for most of the decline.
After that comes the school-funding situation, still unresolved. I’ve previously wrote that this is by far the best issue for the Republicans this year. Not that it’ll beat Shumlin, but it’s the best weapon they’ve got. Better than health care.
Next is Shumlin’s personality. He’s very self-assured and decisive, but often comes across as arrogant, abrasive, and unwilling to listen or compromise. His style was an asset in responding to a disaster like Irene; it’s less so in “normal” times. (See also: Bush, G.W., and Christie, Chris.)
After that comes the health care combo platter: Memories of the troubled rollout, plus his failure to produce a single-payer plan. These are factors, but not as large as the Pundit Class believes. The further we get into the Age of Obamacare, the dimmer the memories of its early stumbles will become. As for Shumlin missing the deadline for a single-payer financing plan, that’s mostly an inside-baseball thing. It’s causing him trouble in the Legislature, but the vast majority of voters aren’t going to care.
As much as I made hay about the Jeremy Dodge deal at the time, I don’t think it makes a dime’s worth of difference today. Once Shumlin realized the potential harm the deal could do, he acted quickly (and fairly) to end the dispute. It’s way behind us now — except in the memories of those who can’t stand Shumlin anyway.
As for Davis’ other issues — the economy, energy, and Lake Champlain — they are factors, but they’re very low on my list.
But let’s put all of that aside. The truth is, we really don’t know why Shumlin’s poll numbers have dropped. There are two huge problems with the poll:
1. It’s the first in two years. Vermont’s too small to support an ongoing survey operation, so all we get is the very occasional snapshot. This may well be the low point for Shumlin: we’ve just been through the health care rollout and the Town Meeting Day uproar over property taxes, and he has yet to begin campaigning for re-election.
2. As Davis points out, the survey didn’t ask why voters approved or disapproved. Further questioning could have given us a read on whether it was a particular issue, or general perceptions of Shumlin’s character. Do they disagree with him, or do they mistrust him?
All in all, this new poll is the big political story of the day, and I’m sure the Republicans are enjoying a rare good moment. But I don’t think — at all — that it portends doom for Shumlin or the Democrats.
Postscript. Near the end of the Digger article, Eric Davis turns his attention to a potential Heidi Scheuermann campaign for Governor. And, just like Terri Hallenbeck, he has a massive blind spot the size and shape of Bruce Lisman. He actually brings up the necessity for Scheuermann to have a deep-pocketed backer — but instead of naming Lisman, he suggests Vermonters First.
I’m amazed that Davis could get this so wrong. Vermonters First isn’t going to lift a finger for Heidi Scheuermann; she represents the Phil Scott wing of the party, which is anathema to the likes of Lenore Broughton. He also suggests the Republican Governors Association as a possible big-dollar supporter — which is also wrong, because the RGA has bigger fish to fry and much better prospects outside of Vermont.
Nope, Scheuermann’s only hope is Bruce Lisman forming a Vermonters First-style SuperPAC. His recent retreat from active leacership in Campaign for Vermont frees him to take such an active, partisan role. Scheuermann is a founding partner in Campaign for Vermont, and she has strongly promoted CFV’s ideas on education and ethics this year. I’m really surprised that Davis failed to see this.