It must keep Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his political advisers up nights. Why is Connecticut’s governor plagued with low approval ratings while those of his more famous regional rivals are edging toward the roof?
A recently released Quinnipiac University poll is a case in point. It shows New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with 62-25 percent approval ratings, up from 53-30 in June and less than a year away from a presumed re-election bid. Cuomo is a Democrat in a blue state, so you would expect him to have his head well above water. But his numbers are remarkably high in just about every demographic imaginable.
In a hypothetical 2014 re-election match-up against a likely opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Cuomo is a landslide favorite at 56-25 percent. Cuomo has a commanding lead in every region of the state, including the GOP-leaning upstate at 53-37. And he does surprisingly well even with Republicans statewide, 40 percent of whom say he deserves to be re-elected.
Cuomo’s numbers are particularly surprising when you consider that President Obama’s approvals in the state of New York are only 47-49. Upstate, Obama’s numbers are abysmal at 38-57. But Cuomo continues to soar.
On New York’s southeastern border, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a regional rival of Malloy’s, just coasted to an easy 60-38 percent re-election victory over state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie’s big win was expected, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
As I’ve reported before, Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by a ratio of almost 2-1 — and the margin is growing — but Christie garnered the support of 32 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of those who identify as liberals, according to exit polls. And Christie carried an astonishing two-thirds of those who aren’t enrolled in either major party.
Meanwhile back in the Nutmeg State, Democrat Malloy limps along with his party in control of both houses of the General Assembly, all the big cities, all of the state’s constitutional offices, and all seven congressional delegates. A June QPoll had him at 47-47. While Malloy’s approvals have been inching up this year as the economy has seen marginal improvement, they are still stuck in the below-50 range. And a QPoll from June had Malloy losing to likely Republican challenger Tom Foley, 43-40.
So why does Malloy’s 2014 re-election appear in doubt while Cuomo looks like a shoo-in and Christie coasted to victory last month? My guess is it’s a combination of substance and style.
Like Malloy, Cuomo and Christie were faced with fiscal crises that demanded decisive action not long after they were elected. Swollen state governments clearly needed to be reined in, but both Cuomo and Christie resisted calls from the usual suspects for large tax increases. And as both Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker demonstrated recently, standing firm in the face of pressure from public-sector labor unions can be both good policy and good politics.
Malloy, on the other hand, wasted little time in calling for what would be one of the largest tax increases in state history. At the same time, he extracted only modest concessions from state employee unions, causing many to feel that his policy of “shared sacrifice” had a hollow ring. While the budget recently has been brought into balance, the Office of Fiscal Analysis sees deficits between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next three fiscal years. The outlook in New York and New Jersey is better, in part because of an improving stock market.
So the giant tax increase did not solve our problems. And Connecticut has one of the worst-performing economies of all 50 states in the last two years. That might be one of the reasons Malloy made NPR’s list of the five most vulnerable governors in the nation.
Combine those stubborn facts with Malloy’s prickly personality, and his re-election prospects grow more doubtful by the day. But if Foley continues to shoot himself in the foot with baseless charges against the governor, then the weakened Democrat might stumble to victory. Malloy can only hope.