What does it mean when the percentage of residents who disapprove of a governor’s job performance is higher than the percentage that approves? For one, it means that there is reason to question public support of the current administration. This could be due to a failure of policies or to an inability to shape the message reaching the public, but whatever the source, it weakens the administration’s ability to shape the public agenda.
Overall, 40 percent of Vermonters approve of the job that Peter Shumlin is doing as Governor of Vermont, while 43 percent disapprove. As reported in our data release, those who follow news about Vermont most closely report the lowest levels of approval. This is relevant because attention to the news is often associated with likelihood to vote, and while Governor Shumlin will not be on the ballot in 2016, every election for an executive office is about the person currently holding that office. The 2016 gubernatorial race will be as much a referendum on the Shumlin administration as the presidential race will be about President Obama.
For the 13 percent of respondents who see taxes and government spending as the most important issues facing Vermont today, only 34 percent approve of the Governor’s job performance while a majority (56 percent) disapprove. Additionally, for the 10 percent of Vermonters for whom healthcare is the most important issue, 36 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove of the Governor’s job performance.
On the other hand, for those whom education, energy and environment, or drugs and opiate addition are the most important issues, the Governor’s approval ratings outpace his disapprovals.
Lastly, half of those who see the jobs and the economy as the most important issue (33 percent) disapprove of the Governor’s job performance compared with the 38 percent of this group who approve. In other words, the Governor’s net approval rating is -12 percentage points among those who are focused on the economy.
Figure 1. Approval of the Governor’s job performance, by assessment of the most important problem facing Vermont
What is clear from the data is that approval of the Governor’s job performance is associated with public views on the direction of the state (Cramer’s V = 0.527 p<.001, see note 1 below). Those who approve of the Governor’s performance are far more likely to say that the state is heading in the right direction (62 percent) than those who do not approve (21 percent). Conversely, those who disapprove of the Governor’s job performance are far more likely to say that the state is on the wrong track (69 percent) than are those who approve of Shumlin’s performance as governor (20 percent). When we control for party affiliation, it is not surprising that the association is stronger among Republicans and Independents than among Democrats, although there is a statistically significant relationship between one’s assessment of the Governor and one’s assessment of the direction of the state regardless of party affiliation.
Figure 2. Approval of the Governor’s job performance, by assessment of the direction of the state
What I think this all means for the 2016 gubernatorial election is that all candidates will work to separate themselves from the current administration and suggest that their election will take Vermont in a new direction. This is particularly tricky for whoever wins the Democratic nomination in that they need to avoid being cast as the continuation of the current regime in order to win over the votes of those who are displeased with the current direction of the state.
- Cramer’s V is calculated from a 2 x 2 table, excluding all “Don’t know” responses as missing data, unweighted n = 462. The degree of association was tested with both weighted and unweighted data, and the reported coefficient is the more conservative value (from the weighted data). The Cramer’s V coefficient from the unweighted data is .601.