The good news in a Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy? It’s still September, meaning there’s time to turn things around. The bad news? Everything else.
Let’s break down the numbers.
First, the big one — Foley is leading Malloy 46-40 percent while independent Joe Visconti brings up the rear at 7 percent. Interestingly, with Visconti removed from the equation both candidates gain 3 points, and Foley beats Malloy 49 -43 percent. Visconti is drawing from both candidates equally, meaning any spoiler effect is basically canceled out.
Foley also bests Malloy in several vital areas. Voters ranked jobs and the economy as their top priority and said that Foley would do a better job handling that by 54-37 percent. Voters also think Foley would do better handling taxes, 59-31 percent. Malloy slightly edges Foley on education, 46-40 percent, and on gun policy, 46-41 percent, but neither of those issues were ranked highly as priorities.
Tellingly, Foley voters said they were voting against Malloy instead of for Foley by a whopping 62-33 percent. The opposite was true of Malloy voters, who said they were voting for Malloy instead of against Foley by 58-33 percent. What this means is that the scare campaign to make voters afraid of Tom Foley really isn’t working, and that Malloy is doing a lousy job of selling his own policies.
This puts the governor in a very bad position heading into the fall campaign, and a lot of it is his own fault. Malloy has never been particularly good at defending his policies in ways that connect with people, and that’s shown in his campaign. He’s struggling to find a message that works; so far hitting Tom Foley for being too gloomy or painting him as a ruthless capitalist isn’t cutting it.
Foley has found his own very simple and effective message: the Malloy years have been a disaster. Voters are inclined to agree, which is why Foley can run an uninspired, gaffe-prone campaign and still get lots of votes based on how bad the other guy is.
To make matters worse, Democrats, usually the driving force in Connecticut politics, have been given very little to rally around. The party is divided over education and labor, and Malloy’s attempts to patch things up have seemed like tokens at best. The visit from Bill Clinton could have been a game-changer, or at least it might have stopped the bleeding a little bit by getting Democrats excited about the race again. Instead, Clinton’s speech, delivered before a less-than-capacity crowd in a hotel ballroom instead of outdoors in front of a cheering throng, turned into an optical disaster. Democrats, instead of getting pumped up for the campaign, have been left grumbling.
Because of that Malloy hasn’t had much luck countering Foley’s economic accusations. Part of the reason is that he’s rowing against a strong current; Foley and the Republicans have been beating this drum basically the entire time Malloy has been in office, while Malloy didn’t even deign to get into the race until just before the convention in May.
How did we get to this point? The economy of the state is actually not doing that badly, all things considered. Unemployment is lower than it was four years ago, there are more jobs, the state’s finances are in somewhat better shape, and the economy is stronger. But after four years of economic hardship, bitter fights over education, higher taxes, and natural disasters, people aren’t really inclined to think positively. They’re frustrated, and — justified or not — they’re about to take it out on the governor.
It’s hard to fight that longstanding feeling that Connecticut is headed in the wrong direction. People might be better off than they were four years ago — marginally — but nobody wants to sign on for another four years like the ones we just lived through.
This doesn’t mean that Malloy can’t turn it around. Foley’s support is soft — people seem to like him mainly because he isn’t Dan Malloy. He still hasn’t really defined himself beyond the basics, which does give the Malloy campaign an opening. Some 30 percent of voters say that they might change their minds before Election Day, and Democrats have a long pattern of flirting with other candidates only to return to the party fold when the time comes.
But if nothing else, this poll could either give Democrats the kick in the rear they need to get moving, or it could send them into an even deeper funk. Given how bad Malloy’s luck has been lately, though, I’d bet on the latter.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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