VTDigger/Castleton poll: 49 percent of Vermonters approve of governor’s job performance


Governor’s approval rating falls from high of 65.1 percent to 49 percent

40 percent of respondents disapprove of Shumlin’s job performance

Two years ago, Gov. Peter Shumlin was riding high on a wave of popularity.

The governor’s approval rating was 65.1 percent in the spring of 2012 as the election season began, thanks in no small part to the successes of his first term in office. Vermonters overwhelmingly supported his handling of Tropical Storm Irene, and there was broad support for the passage of Act 48, a plan for single-payer health care that the governor initiated. The WCAX/Castleton poll from 2012 showed that 22.6 percent of voters disapproved of Shumlin after his first two years in office.

In a VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute poll conducted from March 31 to April 6 this year, nearly half of those polled (49 percent) approve of the job that Shumlin is doing. Forty percent of respondents said they disapproved of the governor’s job performance.

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, says Shumlin’s popularity has waned since 2012 somewhat due to a variety of factors, including incumbency.

“The passage of time affects every governor,” Davis says. Typically, an incumbent loses 2 percentage points to 3 percentage points over an election cycle, he says. Govs. Howard Dean and James Douglas, he said, both had similarly high approval ratings, then saw approval ratings decline over time.

“I’m not surprised that his [Shumlin’s] approval rating is lower than two years ago,” Davis said, “but to lose 15 points in two years is a pretty good drop. The question is, why is Shumlin less popular today?”

Eric Davis
Eric Davis

Davis said there are several plausible explanations. The decline in Shumlin’s approval rating could be due in part to stories about the governor’s land deal with his neighbor, Jeremy Dodge, last year. Or voters could be disappointed that he missed the deadline for revealing financing plans for single payer health care and has not been transparent about how the program will be paid for.

If the poll had been conducted at the request of a candidate, Davis said, it would have asked whether the drop in Shumlin’s popularity has to do with Vermonters’ perceptions of the governor’s personal character. The question, he said, is “Do they (voters) trust him less?”

Davis also speculates that despite the state’s low unemployment rate, incomes among middle class Vermonters (in the $40,000 to $100,000 household income range) have stagnated. When voters feel uneasy about their own financial prospects they often blame political leaders. “The governor can’t do much about that,” Davis said. “But voters will hold the administration responsible if they feel they are not as prosperous as they ought to be.”

It’s also possible respondents don’t like what the governor is doing on particular issues. Those factors could include dissatisfaction on the left from anti-wind and anti-gas pipeline activists who believe the governor is too cozy with big power companies and environmentalists who believe the governor isn’t doing enough to clean up Lake Champlain, Davis said.

“When you add all these things up, I’m not surprised it’s 49 percent, not 65 percent,” Davis said. “He is going to have to work harder than he did two years ago and he may have to start his campaign earlier than he would like to.”

Davis says there is no question that the odds are stacked in Shumlin’s favor in a contest with a Republican challenger like Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a 43-year-old Stowe native who is contemplating a race for governor. Scheuermann doesn’t have statewide name recognition, but the fact that she’s young, moderate and a woman, gives her an edge, Davis said, over conservatives like former state Sen. Randy Brock, who lost to Shumlin in 2012.

Scheuermann worked for Sen. James Jeffords in the late 1990s and then again in the early 2000s when he left the Republican Party to become an independent. “Through the experience she’s had with Jeffords, she knows a Republican has to appeal to centrist voters,” Davis said. She also was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for gay marriage in 2009, and that inoculates her against accusations that she is a social conservative, Davis says. (Brock voted against gay marriage.)

Her big challenge is low name recognition. The only way to build that up is through media coverage, Davis said, and he suggested that Vermonters First or the Republican Governors Association could bankroll independent ads that would giver her a lift.

Media buys from an outside group on Scheuermann’s behalf could force Shumlin to spend some of his $1 million war chest or take money from the Democratic Governors Association and spend it in Vermont, Davis said.

“I’m interested to see if Heidi Scheuermann could get to 45 percent and within 10 points of Shumlin,” Davis said.

Though it’s likely Scheuermann would lose, Davis said if she runs a credible campaign she’ll have a shot at another statewide campaign down the road. “She could be the TJ Donovan of the Republican Party,” Davis said. (Donovan narrowly lost a bid for Vermont Attorney General in 2012.) Even if she doesn’t win, her run would be very positive for the GOP. “A 40ish woman as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party would be good for the Republican Party.”

Another factor? There will be a low voter turnout this year. It is an off-presidential year election and there is no Senate race this season. (Once every 12 years there is no presidential or Senate race.) In presidential election cycles, the turnout in Vermont is about 70 percent, and in years in which there is a Senate race turnout is about 55 percent, Davis said. He expects about 50 percent of registered voters will go to the polls in the 2014 General Election, based on historic precedent.

44% approve of Vermont Legislature

Respondents to the VTDigger/Castleton poll gave the Vermont Legislature an approval rating of 44 percent. Thirty-three percent disapprove of the Legislature’s job performance and 23 percent had no opinion.

The Vermont Legislature has a much higher approval rating than Congress, which came in at 13 percent in January 2014, according to a Gallup poll.

Davis says the Vermont Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats in the House and the Senate, doesn’t suffer from same perceptions that Congress does, which has been mired in partisan conflict.

Republicans now hold less than 30 percent of the seats in the General Assembly.

Davis says the GOP can pick up three seats in the Senate and six to eight in the House if the party is strategic about which races it targets this election cycle. Certain districts north of Route 2 hold the best promise for Republicans, in his view.

In the Senate, Republicans could have competitive races in traditionally Republican strongholds, including Rutland, Franklin and Orleans counties. Pat McDonald, a former Republican representative from Berlin, is a strong contender in Washington County, he says, and Republican Dustin Degree could have a better chance in this election cycle. Eldred French, an appointed Democrat from Rutland, and Democrat John Rogers, from Orleans, could both be vulnerable, he says.

The VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute poll is based on data from 682 interviews drawn from a random sample of registered voters in Vermont. Interviews were conducted by phone by from March 31 to April 7, 2014. Thirteen percent of interviews were conducted with registered voters on cell phones.

For a sample of this size, the margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is +/-4 percent, although the margin of error is larger for questions involving subsamples of respondents. Although sampling error is only one source of potential survey error, precautions have been taken to minimize other sources of error for this poll.

The data reported are weighted based on estimations of the population of Vermont registered voters to account for differential in response rates among age groups.

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Anne Galloway

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  • Anne:

    Is this quote from Prof Davis correct:

    “When you add all these things up, I’m not surprised it’s 49 percent, not 65 percent,” Davis said. ”

    Based on the problems cited, if seems that the 49 % approval rating wouldn’t be higher as the 65% implies. Could the 65% have been meant to be a disapproval level?

    • Anne:

      I just re-read the Davis quote and now get it. Forget my question, thanks for your patients with me, I’m a little slow on this holiday afternoon.

    • Eric Davis

      Peter —

      Anne got my quote correct. Considering all the reasons mentioned in the article, I was not surprised Shumlin’s approval rating this spring is 49 percent, compared to 65 percent two years ago.

      Eric Davis

      • Thanks professor Davis,

        It was my miss reading of the quote.

        I should know better than to be reading the vtdigger, watching the Boston Bruins and debating my graduate school daughter on the effectiveness of rating agencies all at one time.

  • Jim Barrett

    I did not take any survey but the results sound to rosie to me. This lagislature and governor has been a tax and spend political group from day one. But we do know that it is very easy to fool an uninformed public with a lot of smiles and BS!

  • Ann Meade

    Today CNN declared that Shumlin’s seat as governor is safe.

    • Paul Lorenzini

      because there is no opponent?

  • Kim Fried

    I only wish I had been part of this poll for the satisfaction of being able to express my disappointment in this Governor, he is a dishonest man. I won’t get into any detail but Shumlin knows exactly what I’m referring to.

  • Dave Bellini

    No surprise. The Governor will win another election, of course running unopposed really helps. But this may be the last time he is reelected Governor. As citizens become more familiar with the man and the veneer wears off, people will look for more substance. Better to exit in 2016, before the “single payer” debacle ends. Better to claim victory before implementation. When the going gets tough, blame the Republicans in congress. I think the Governor will seek some national job, either elected or appointed in 2016. Maybe some organization will pony up money for a job in DC to advocate for national healthcare reform. We could see how many seagulls try to grab the French fry.

  • Bob Stannard

    Peter Shumlin has been in the public eye for twenty years. Vermonters know him and they vote for him, because he takes on issues that others would rather not.

    When you actually do things as governor then you please half the people and displease the other half. That’s why our previous governor did little more than cut ribbons.

    I think it was Calvin Coolidge who said, “If you don’t ever do anything, then you won’t do anything wrong.”

    I’d rather have a governor who is trying to do something than simply serve as a popular caretaker.

    • Glenn Thompson

      Bob Stannard,

      “Peter Shumlin has been in the public eye for twenty years. Vermonters know him and they vote for him, because he takes on issues that others would rather not.

      “When you actually do things as governor then you please half the people and displease the other half. That’s why our previous governor did little more than cut ribbons.”

      That was funny Bob! Yes, I recall one ribbon cutting ceremony Douglas did on the Williston section of the Circ….only to have it put on hold by the likes of VPIRG, and the CLF…followed by Shumlin, the special interest groups, and the regional director of the EPA to ‘gang up’ on the Circ and kill it. Later, the Shumlin solution to Chittenden county traffic congestion is expensive ‘band-aid’ solutions that won’t even begin to address the issue. I would hardly call that taking on an issue and putting forward the proper solution!

      FYI, while I was employed by Energizer in St. Albans, Douglas visited the plant twice. Dubie once! At least when a governor and Lt. Governor shows up at a business….it shows to employees the top state officials knows the place exists. To the best of my knowledge, (I retired at the end of 2009) Shumlin never did and didn’t get involve with Energizer *until* Energizer made the announcement they were shutting down the facility. Classic Shumlin trait, react after the horses bolted out of the barn!

      I was pleased to learn another 16% of Vermonters have finally learned what I already knew about Shumlin over the past 20 years!

      • Richard Ratico

        The take away is that Douglas’s two visits and Dubie’s one had exactly zero impact on Energizer’s plans.

        • Glenn Thompson

          If you wish to go down that road, I will point out Energizer closed that plant under Shumlin’s watch! NEXT!

          • Richard Ratico

            LET’S go down that road Glenn. There was nothing any governor could have done to change Energizer’s plans.

            If you wish to spin fairy tales, I don’t suppose there’s any logical argument that will stop you.

          • Glenn Thompson

            Ok, Mr Ratico…please explain to me in detail what ‘fairy tales’ was I (((((spinning))))) ?

            I’ll state it again! The Energizer St. Alban’s plant closing happened under Shumlin’s watch! Is that a fairy tale????

            There were several factors involved in the decision to close down that facility that were NOT mentioned in the article! I’d go into detail…but considering the way you like to debate an issue….it would be pointless attempting to bring you out of your own little world. I will mention, the fact that US companies have to compete in a global economy. That includes not only competing against foreign countries, but also competition between states! Are you getting the picture yet? Hint *COSTS*

            As for comparing Douglas to Shumlin, Douglas was more sensitive and more interactive with the business community than Shumlin will ever be. Shumlin on the other hand is just another career politician who unfortunately is attached by ‘puppet strings’ to Special Interest groups! That statement is also NOT a fairy tale!

  • David Black

    I like data and charts to distinguish a persons character and ethics. So, the data reveals that Democrats still like him. Republicans dislike him and the Independents are in the middle of the road again.

  • Kathy Callaghan

    “Peter Shumlin has been in the public eye for twenty years. Vermonters know him and they vote for him, because he takes on issues that others would rather not.”

    I don’t think so. I think many Vermonters have now discovered the true character of this man, and are as disillusioned as those who already knew.

    Were it not for the Governor holding out the false promise of single payer, his unfavorables would be much higher.

    Right now he is holding S.252 hostage in House Ways and Means. This is Tim Ashe’s Senate Finance Committee bill that would require the Governor to, among other things, produce a single payer financing plan no later than February 2015. No more stalling.

    Shumlin doesn’t like to be rushed, as we all know, and dislikes any form of oversight, including legislative oversight, so the bill hangs on the wall, when it would otherwise go to the House for a vote and most likely be approved.

    Both pro and anti single payer advocates should be supporting this bill so Vermont can actually figure this thing out and move on, instead of remaining in Shumlin-imposed limbo.

    This is just the latest tactic of what I’m afraid Vermonters don’t realize is “one-man rule” in Montpelier. Democrats are afraid to oppose him (although I can’t understand why) and Republicans are too few in number to make a difference.

    This is not the Vermont way. I’m sure this resonates with many Vermonters. Does anyone have a solution? Elections are coming up.

  • Lyle M. Miller, Sr.

    I believe this poll is flawed. Mr. Shumlin has demonstrated a lack of transparency that he promised and the media has failed to keep Vermonters informed about his blunders. I personally know of three or four which the media just passed over without any regard. Other than his fiasco in his land deal and the miss statements about the
    Vermont Strong license plates, the media has bent over backward in my opinion to as a ok leader. On a personal note, if he couldn’t keep his marriage together, what makes him think he can keep Vermont together? His approval rating should top out at no more than 25% in m mind.

  • Annette Smith

    If this poll was done the way previous Castleton State College polls were done, then it involves about 600 people and they are distributed based on the populations of each county. Therefore Chittenden County’s opinions are more heavily reflected than, say, Essex County.

    I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

    I wonder if this is really the right way to go about polling of Vermonters. I would find it helpful if the pollsters released their data and the news coverage incorporated that information in the reporting so readers have some context for how these numbers are arrived at.

    I see that they say it is registered voters, but my town has something like 800 registered voters and in an average election maybe half of them vote, so asking people if they actually vote might also be more useful.

  • Peter Everett

    First off, anyone in politics is in a no win situation. Me, personally, I have no use what our government has become. I view it now as a needed evil. It has just gotten far too big. The scope of what it tries to do just keeps growing. Soon it will factor in every aspect of of daily lives. There may not be a place where gov’t doesn’t tell us what and where we can do or go.
    The current path that gov’t is on is completely unsustainable. People do not earn the type of income that Gov’t wants (BIG difference than what it NEEDS). Tax laws are written by the wealthy, to protect the wealthy. Get real, they pay less than a lot of the Middle Class does. The national Liar in Chief paid 20%, even though he is a 1%’er. The new Mayor of NYC is a billionaire and just paid 9% effective tax rate. Wonder what the head honcho of this state paid for a tax rate. He won’t tell, but, I bet it is probably less than you or I.
    Gov’t created the distrust of the people. They own everything about it. They earned the lack of respect they receive from us, it’s just not something we bestowed on them.
    Funny part is, we’re just a guilty as they are. Where else would people who perform so poorly keep getting re-elected. If this were our work place, we would see new employees all the time. Yet, we keep recycling the same people, year in, year out. We are so STUPID to let these same, poorly rated individuals walk all over us. It’s always the other person’s Rep/Senator to blame. I’ll say it…mine are just as guilty as yours.
    As people/neighbors, I like them. I just would like to try a new direction, come November. If the new one’s don’t perform better, we can bring back the old crew, if we choose.

    • Paul Lorenzini

      Well writ Pete,
      EB-5 is the solution to the income problem in the mind of them.
      Immigration reform is the solution to the labor shortage in the mind of them.
      Where do hard working individuals stand in the mind of them?
      Don’t get in the way of progress.

  • David Dempsey

    Shumlin said he was helping out a neighbor in need, a man who faced foreclosure and whose main concern was having a place to live. So he “helps” him by buying the property dirt cheap and lets him stay their for about $1,000 a month, to be deducted from the sale price. Then he proceeded with the sale even though the neighbor didn’t have a lawyer. Most people I know would have told him that if the tax sale happened, he could have stayed in the house for a year for free, and if he could pay the delinquent taxes within that year the sale would be cancelled and he would get his property back. That’s how you help a neighbor. How can you vote for a man who takes advantage of people in need..

    • Thomas Joseph

      Bravo Mr. Dempsey! You hit the nail on the head. If the Governor wanted to “help” his neighbor he would have advocated for him and put the neighbor in touch with agencies that could help to reduce his property assessment or provide other relief.

      Instead the Governor saw his neighbor’s property as an “opportunity” to expand his $5 Million real estate empire and took full advantage of a gentleman who had no capacity to advocate for himself. Shameful!

      Shumlin is nothing more than a self-serving opportunist whose time in office can’t end soon enough.

  • Wendy wilton

    With all due respect I take issue with some of Prof. Davis’ assertions, such as:

    He supposes that if Heidi Scheurerman ran for governor and lost in 2014 she could run again and possibly win in 2016. I agree that many candidates need to run more than once for statewide office to reach success (Peter Shumlin ran for Lt. Gov and lost before running for governor). However, 2014 is the best year for a serious challenger to Shumlin and Davis knows it as 2016 will be a huge turnout presidential election year which doesn’t favor an R.

    Prof. Davis brands Randy Brock a conservative, which is inaccurate based on Brock’s record. While conservative on fiscal issues, he also voted to close VY and to ban fracking and is pro-choice, hardly conservative stances. Brock was urged by his constituents to vote against same sex marriage, yet as a JP he has gladly officiated gay or lesbian weddings. Brock is a moderate and if he ran against Shumlin again, he could win in 2014 based on ethics, trust and financial issues.

    Like Prof. Davis I am not surprised by Governor Shumlin’s plummet in job approval, but I don’t agree it’s about incumbency. The Dodge deal, serious problems with agencies such as AHS/DCF, ignoring the law he passed to produce a funding plan for GMC, and other issues demonstrate his truly flawed personal character. This flaw differentiates him from any other elected official I have ever met in VT from all sides of the political spectrum. He will only do the right thing for VT only if it happens to be conveniently attached to what’s good for him.

    • Timothy D. MacLam

      “The Dodge deal, serious problems with agencies such as AHS/DCF, ignoring the law he passed to produce a funding plan for GMC, and other issues demonstrate his truly flawed personal character. This flaw differentiates him from any other elected official I have ever met in VT from all sides of the political spectrum. He will only do the right thing for VT only if it happens to be conveniently attached to what’s good for him.”
      Why can’t people see this??

      $humlin does not represent Vermont values. We need to give this arrogant flimflam man the boot. He seems to think his real job is as a bagman for the DGA, which allows him to panhandle from wealthy out-of-state donors for his own benefit.

  • Shumlin was “PUT” in office by BIG out of State money, money from the Agenda 21 crowd. Between Shumlin and Leahy we’ll be lucky to have any property rights left in Vt. if we do not get them out of office.

    I am beginning to connect the dots in all this.

    At this time we are finding the EPA in our State making big claims about the misguided attempts by the State to clean up the Lake. Let’s all remember Leahy is Chair of the Senate Ag Committee in DC. Now, let’s look at the problem with run-off in our State and the inability to properly regulate BIG AG. It is a problem and regulation should have been put in place before these Industrial Farms were allowed into our State, it would have protected our waterways. Remember, Leahy is the Chair of the Senate Ag Committee. So, during James Douglas administration the gates were left wide open for Industrial Farming to sweep over Vt. under the guidance of Leahy.

    Now, fast forward to Shumlin. Shumlin was supported by BIG money from out of State interest whose concerns were rooted in the Agenda 21 movement to take away our property rights, he still has a huge bank roll and it makes me wonder if these A21 supporters intend to buy him another term to keep him going, slowly and quietly, towards diminishing our property rights.

    Now, here we have Leahy (who is an Agenda 21 supporter) working with Shumlin (who is an Agenda 21 supporter) to bring more regulation (town roads, homesteads and businesses) to our State thru the power of the EPA and under the guise of “saving the environment” (while big Ag is exempt). However, their long term slow moving plan has severe consequences – the loss of our property rights.

    Here is a page I ran across that may help some people connect the dots:


    We need to get Leahy out of office. He’s a Liberal Dinosaur who’s time and ideology has expired. Let’s all hope people wake up to this with Shumlin also, while we still have property rights.

    About Heidi Scheuermann in this article, a “centralist” is not what we need in Vt. What the heck is a centralist? Someone in between the right and the left? There’s no “party” there. I had some hope for Heidi but my hope has diminished as far as someone that would bring change. I am sick and tired of Politicians who run according to what is “popular” to get them in office. A centralist is someone that would be a liberal wearing the hat of a Republican. RINO (republican in name only)

  • David Black

    I have noticed a lot more anti Shumlin/Leahy comments lately. Is this a sign that their is hope for Vermont afterall?

  • Keith Stern

    It shows just what low expectations people have for elected officials or maybe just how little people pay attention. He has shown himself to be ethically challenged and morally bankrupt and I personally would not want someone with his character as my governor regardless of political affiliation or ideology.
    No matter how much you think you can, you can never turn swamp water into Evian.

  • Peter Everett

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a new candidate elected to office, one who is not beholding to any Special Interest group?
    I would love to see a candidate with a very small budget get elected. Unfortunately, this will never happen in this day and age. Money talks, without it, a candidate doesn’t stand a chance to get elected. That is really unfortunate for the voter because the elected has to “repay” those who contributed. We, the voter, may get a thank you, but, those who spent big receive the attention and the favors. We get higher tax bills and more regulations thrown at us while the Special Interests get all the “breaks”.
    Will the rotten cycle ever end? Probably not, because the majority of the voters are just too bloody lazy to research each candidate running for office.
    I’ll leave you with these questions: “Why did Bernie need a War chest of close to $3.5 million when he, basically, was running against an unknown?’ “Where did the money come from?” Think about those two, especially the last one.
    Wouldn’t it be nice to elect an unknown into office with no ties to anything, or anyone? Just think of how either Congress or the Legislature could change with just a few new faces with no connections to Special Interests or Partisan politics. I’d love to see it it happen, but, I am realistic enough to know it never will. We won’t do our due diligence. It’s not just VT, it’s the voters in the whole country. Too lazy, too naive to work for change.

  • Ed fisher

    I believe that this is directly affected by a lackluster response to the real problems facing Vermont’s very future ! A completely liberally controlled legislature , a shamefully biased and ungratefully controlled liberal media ! All the votes of the young , the self centered Chittenden county controlled politically controlled system of government …….and he’s got a fifty percent approval ! Wow , I’m impressed …….Not!

    • Paul Lorenzini

      I call Chittenden county the Big Armpit of VT.

      St. Jay on the other side.

      Lake Champlain and the Connecticut are the arms.

      Quebec is not our brain, but that is where we get our electricity to write all this crap.

      I hope we are still all American.

      Want to revitalize the NEK?

      Build a modern power plant.

      Without sprawl.


      By the way, if we could only get NH to raise their sales taxes to exceed VT, then St.J would be a big armpit also, and VT would be a giant!

      Thank the lord for the USA!

      and common sense
      whatever that is

  • Lyle M. Miller, Sr.

    I believe that Mr. Shumlin has made too many mistakes to be able to continue sending this state into a tax and spending frenzy that he has embarked on now for far too long. He thinks he’s God answer to all of our struggles with life, but until he has to live on a fixed income of less than $20,000.00 a year he will not get it right.

  • Keith Stern

    He has the benefit of the many people who moved here from MA. CT, and NY who are used to the liberal leadership and can’t picture fiscal restraint, less government, and common sense leadership because they have never known it. You can see the same thing happening to NH with the influx trying to get away from higher taxes and cost of living but then voting for what they were trying to get away from.

    • Carl Werth

      That is so true, Keith.