(Updated 12:15 p.m.) A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday morning shows Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s approval rating at its highest point since taking office last year, and the 1,622 voters surveyed seem to like the more controversial pieces of his education reform package.

The poll released Wednesday morning shows voters approve 44 percent of the job Democratic governor is doing, while 45 percent disapprove. A year ago only 35 percent approved of the job he was doing.

“Gov. Dannel Malloy’s overall approval rating is up slightly because he is doing better with Democrats,” Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz said. “This lukewarm 44 – 45 percent score is not bad for a governor who raised the income tax across the board his first year to deal with an inherited deficit.” 

As usual, Malloy’s Senior Communications Adviser Roy Occhiogrosso declined to comment on the poll numbers.

“We have tried to be consistent in not saying much about polls because…what’s there to say? Polls come and go, numbers go up and down,“ he said. “The governor always does what he thinks is best for the state and the right thing to do.”

The results aren’t much different than what a poll by the conservative Yankee Institute found on Feb. 7.

The Quinnipiac University poll numbers may boost Malloy’s support for the more controversial portions of his education reform package, including tying teacher tenure to a new evaluation system which will be based in part on student achievement.

Most voters say they have a favorable opinion of Connecticut public school teachers, but they also support making it easier to fire teachers and reward the outstanding ones with additional pay. The poll found 62 percent approved of making it easier to fire teachers, while 31 percent disapproved. It also found 54 percent support Malloy’s plan to change teacher tenure, while 35 percent said it’s a bad idea. Even amongst union households, 47 percent support Malloy’s proposal and 41 percent oppose it.

Voters had a less favorable opinion of teacher unions. Only 27 percent viewed them favorable, while 32 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion. There were also 39 percent who hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion.

It’s unclear if any of this will influence lawmakers on the Education Committee who are currently talking about changing the 163-page bill behind closed-doors.

As Malloy travels the state holding Education Town Hall meetings where he spars with the public over his education reforms, it would seem to the casual observer that there isn’t a lot of support for certain portions of the bill even though everyone seems to agree something needs to be done.

Seventy-seven percent of voters did, however, rate the quality of Connecticut’s public schools at either “fairly” or “very” good, up 3 points from 5 years ago.

“People do think that schools statewide are pretty good, and they even think that their own schools are better,” Schwartz said.

But when asked if they approve of how Malloy is handling the situation 36 percent approved and 41 percent disapproved. The number is even worse amongst union households who disapprove 47 percent, while 36 percent approve.

Though Connecticut’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap has urban school districts achieving at a far worse rate than suburban schools, teachers’ unions faired better in the cities than in the suburbs, with a 36 percent approval rating, compared to 24 percent in the suburbs and 26 percent in rural districts.

Schwartz speculated that this may be due the the greater proportion of Democrats in the state’s cities.

Medical Marijuana, Sunday sales, and the death penalty

The new poll found 68 percent of voters support a proposal to allow adults to use marijuana for medical purposes, with a physician’s prescription. There is no gender, partisan, income, age or education group opposed.

By a smaller 54 to 42 percent margin, voters want liquor stores to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday, but men support it more than women. Men support the proposal 60 to 37 percent, while women are divided 48 to 48 percent.

The poll also found 63 percent of voters oppose allowing gas stations and convenient stores to sell beer. The measure was deleted from the bill the General Law Committee approved Tuesday.

“Connecticut may be the land of steady habits but no Sunday liquor sales is one habit voters are ready to kick,” Schwartz said.

As for the perennial issue of the death penalty, voters continue to oppose repealing it.

Fifty-eight percent of women say keep the death penalty, while men support it 66 percent. Democrats back repeal of the death penalty 48 – 44 percent, but 62 percent of voters continue to support it.

And if the death penalty is abolished, those already sentenced to death should still be executed, 58 percent of voters said.

This time the poll did not give voters a choice between the death penalty and life in prison without parole.

Last year’s poll found voters support the death penalty 67 to 28 percent. The number is much closer 48 to 43 percent when given a choice between the death penalty and life in prison without parole.
“As we’ve seen in past Quinnipiac University polls, Connecticut voters still think abolishing the death penalty is a bad idea,” Schwartz said. “No doubt the gruesome Cheshire murders still affect public opinion regarding convicts on death row.”

The poll was conducted March 14-19 and it has a 2.4 percent margin of error.

Michael Lee-Murphy contributed to this report.