New Poll Shows Drop In Vermont Governor’s Approval

Apr 22, 2014

Vermont Statehouse
Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

A new poll from the online newspaper Vermont Digger and the Castleton Polling Institute shows a dramatic drop in Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s approval rating. Despite the 16 percent drop, pundits still expect the incumbent Democrat to be reelected this fall.

VT Digger conducted the poll as the legislature tries to complete its session. Digger editor Anne Galloway notes that campaign season will begin as soon as adjournment occurs, and the poll gives a sense of what is happening just before what many believe will be an uncompetitive gubernatorial race.  "Representative Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe has announced that she’s interested in possibly running. Peter Shumlin has a million dollars in the bank. Vermonters tend to re-elect incumbents. And so, that’s why we did the poll now. We wanted people to tell us how they thought the governor was doing and and how the Legislature’s doing."

Voters were asked if they approved of the job Peter Shumlin is doing as governor of Vermont. His rating was highest in southern Vermont, where Shumlin is from, and lowest in northern Vermont. Overall, the poll found 49 percent approve and 40 percent disapprove as Shumlin seeks a third two-year term.  That is a substantial drop from polls taken only two years ago. In the spring of 2012, according to VTDigger, Shumlin’s approval rating was 65 percent. Anne Galloway characterizes that as very unusual.  "He was riding a wave of popularity after Tropical Storm Irene. And then it came down, in part, when he had that land deal with his neighbor and people questioned whether or not he was taking advantage of Jeremy Dodge. People began to lose trust in the governor when so many stories came out about that particular issue. And then I think people are upset about the way the Vermont Health Exchange rolled out. And incumbents always lose popularity over time."

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says this poll does not provide the reasons for Shumlin’s drop in voter approval.  And he wonders if the numbers point to a more competitive gubernatorial race this fall than originally anticipated.  "For example, assuming Heidi Scheuermann does declare for governor, could she hold Shumlin to a margin of ten points or maybe a little less? In the past incumbent governors have tended to be re-elected by a fifteen to twenty percent margin. The governor may have to do some campaigning over the summer. He may need to spend some money out of his million dollar plus war chest. So, I wouldn’t say that there’s a risk that he would not be re-elected. But I think the could end up being closer than maybe many people thought."

The poll also found that 44 percent of respondents approved and 33 percent disapproved of the job being done by the Vermont Legislature. Galloway notes there haven’t been many polls assessing the overall legislature. Eric Davis adds that it’s a fairly diffuse result.  "On one level the Vermont Legislature is doing quite well. It’s approval rating is about three times what the U.S. Congress is and there’s not the visceral disgust with the Vermont Legislature that many voters around the country have with Congress. The other thing that was interesting was that about a quarter said they had no opinion. So I think when looking at legislative matters, it’s how the candidates in an individual district are perceived."

The poll of 682 registered voters in Vermont was conducted from March 31st to April 7th and has a margin of error of 4 percent.