For the first time in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s tenure, more Vermonters disapprove of his job performance than approve of it.
A new VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute survey shows that 47 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job Shumlin, a Democrat, is doing as governor and 41 percent approve.
The poll of 700 Vermonters was conducted Feb. 9-24 (see sidebar for methodology).
The results show that Shumlin’s support has dropped since his narrow re-election in November, in which he won 46.4 percent of the vote and needed to be confirmed by the Legislature. It also dropped when compared to a VTD/CPI poll in April 2014, which showed Shumlin’s approval rating at 49 percent.
The results do not bode well for Shumlin should he seek a fourth term in 2016, according to Eric Davis, a retired political science professor at Middlebury College.
“It shows Shumlin is vulnerable heading into the 2016 cycle,” Davis said, particularly if the Republicans unite behind a single candidate and avoid a primary.
“If they can get behind a consensus candidate in late 2015 or early 2016, and that person has the full support of the Republican Party and is able to raise money and gets some outside support from the RGA (Republican Governors Association), I think we’re looking at a very competitive election,” Davis said.
The poll also indicates a trend toward fewer respondents self-identifying with the two major parties. Of the 700 polled, 200 identified as Democrat, 105 as Republican and 262 as independent (the remainder identified as “other”).
Shumlin won the support of 62 percent of Democrats, but only 37 percent of independents, who made up the largest share of the respondents who indicated a political affiliation.
The fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans can, on their own, reach the 50 percent threshold to elect a governor, means the successful candidate will be the one who draws in the most independents, Davis said.
“The challenge for both parties … is to turn out the unaligned voters,” he said.
The most likely Republican contenders for governor in 2016 are Scott Milne, a relative political novice who lost to Shumlin by just over 1 percent, and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who won 62 percent of the vote in November against Progressive/Democrat Dean Corren.
“If Shumlin runs again, the risk is that he will lose and break the 50-year-plus streak of governors always winning re-election,” Davis said.
What about the Legislature?
The survey found that 41 percent of respondents approved of the job being done by the Vermont Legislature and 32 percent disapproved. Another 26 percent had no opinion.
That is slightly down from the Legislature’s 44 percent approval rating in the VTD/CPI poll a year ago. It is sharply down from a 2012 WCAX/CPI poll that found 55 percent of respondents approved or strongly approved of lawmakers’ performance.
Davis found the latest results to be consistent with attitudes frequently detected in polls on Congress. Voters have reservations about the body as a whole but continue to return incumbents to the job.
In this question, independents approved (41 percent to 32 percent) of the job being done by the Legislature. Younger people and those with higher levels of education also tended to approve of the Legislature’s performance.
“People vote for individual House and Senate candidates, not the Legislature as a whole,” Davis said.
Are we headed in the right direction?
Vermonters appear more optimistic on where the state is heading compared to views on the nation as a whole.
A recent Rasmussen Reports survey found that 31 percent of likely voters believe the country is headed in the right direction and 61 percent do not.
In Vermont, the VTD/CPI poll shows that 48 percent believe the state is headed in the right direction, while 41 percent say we’re off track. More Democrats, women, people age 18-44 and those with higher levels of education say Vermont is headed in the right direction.
“That’s an interesting finding,” Davis said. “Some of it may have to do with the fact that the tone is not as confrontational and polarizing in Vermont as it is in Washington.”
More Republicans, men and independents say the state is off track.