Campaigns Matter, Even When Most Voters Are Not Engaged

The VPR Poll in July 2016 asked Vermonters about the candidates. Respondents were asked if they have heard of each candidate for governor or lieutenant governor; for each candidate that a respondent has heard of, the respondents were asked if their opinion of that candidate was favorable or unfavorable.

The data from these two questions allowed us to assess how well a candidate is known and whether those who know the candidate have a favorable or unfavorable opinion (or no opinion at all). This is what a campaign is all about: to introduce or reintroduce one’s candidate to the voters and to create a favorable image for that candidate among those voters. The successful campaigns approach the election with a large percentage of the public holding favorable views of their candidates. As the Vermont state primary approaches, the candidate with the greatest level of name recognition is current Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott. Of the 86 percent of Vermont adults who recognize Scott, 58 percent hold a favorable view of him, while only 13 percent hold an unfavorable view—giving Scott a net favorability score of 45. (Net favorability is percentage of respondents with an unfavorable opinion of the candidate subtracted from the percentage of respondents with a favorable opinion; those with no opinion are not included in the calculation.) The only gubernatorial candidate with a higher net favorability score—higher by a mere and insignificant 1 point—was Sue Minter; however, only 63 percent of Vermont adults have heard of Minter.

The following graph shows the relative awareness and net favorability for all of the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

Figure 1. Candidates’ Name Recognition and Net Favorability Ratings, July 2015

Of course, the job of a campaign is to improve the level of public awareness and public approval for one’s candidate. In September 2015, the Castleton Poll asked Vermonters about a number of candidate who were potentially running for governor. The following table shows the changes from fall of 2015 to July 2016.

Table 1. Changes in Name Recognition and Favorability from September 2015 to July 2016

The campaign of Bruce Lisman made the most traction in getting the candidate’s name recognized by potential voters, going from having only 21 percent knowing who he is in September to 61 percent this July. Unfortunately, being known as a candidate takes a hit on one’s favorability ratings, as LIsman’s net favorability dropped from 13 to 3.  This is what hit Phil Scott, who had the biggest drop in net favorability from September 2015 to July 2016. Of course, Scott had such high favorables it was inevitable that, as a candidate, those numbers would come down.

Randy Brock, a former gubernatorial candidate, has lost ground running for lieutenant governor in both awareness and favorability.

Sue Minter has made the greatest gains in favorability, picking up a net 20 points and increasing her awareness by 25 percentage points. While she is, in July 2016, a little less known than her primary opponent Matt Dunne, her net favorability is comparably higher. This sets up a potentially close race for the Democratic nomination. The victor will likely be the one who mobilizes supporters best with the better get-out-the-vote effort.