The F&M poll, the gubernatorial race, and public education

The latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll, which you can download here, shows that, as people have been saying for a long time, Pennsylvanians are not happy with the choice of governor that they made in 2010.

That year was perhaps the high water mark of the Tea Party. It was a disaster for Democrats in Congress and in state governments across the country. As one result, Republicans now control the Pennsylvania governorship, state senate, state house of representatives, and statewide courts–and therefore the gerrymander process, which gives the R’s the advantage in the General Assembly and Congress while since 2010 the D’s have been winning most statewide elections, which are subject to vote suppression but not gerrymandering.

In November 2010, then Attorney General Corbett had name recognition and his opponent, Dan Onorato, had neither name recognition, a reputation outside of Pittsburgh, nor charisma (not Corbett’s forte either). Onorato was probably very competent, but as Mass. Governor Dukakis ably showed in 1988, that slogan doesn’t take a candidate very far. That was also before the public became aware of Corbett’s failure as AG, governor, and ex officio Penn State trustee to take action in the Sandusky scandal. And three years ago of course, his inability to work productively with the General Assembly or to explain his own policies even to members of his own party still lay in the future.

As of summer 2013, an unusually early date for competition to be heating up for a primary election almost a year away, there are eight announced or presumed Democratic candidates for Governor and much publicity surrounding the race.

In the Washington Post, “Things going from bad to worse for Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett” by Aaron Blake, 8/29/13, shows that

The poll numbers of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) continue to erode, according to a new survey from Franklin and Marshall College.

The pollster’s latest numbers show 69 percent of Pennsylvanians think it’s time for a new governor, while just 20 percent say he deserves another term. Three months ago, 25 percent said he deserved another term….

Given that dismal showing (from 25% to 20% is a loss of 1/5 of already minimal support), it seems surprising that Republican challengers to Corbett have not emerged. But within his own party, the Governor fortuitously occupies a position of strength: “moderate” Republicans (like most of that party’s past governors) are getting hard to find; and a challenger to his right would be so extreme as not to have the slightest chance of winning a general election in a state that has a million more registered Democrats than Republicans (roughly, 4 million Dems, 3 million Rs, 1 million others, per state data.

It is interesting to look more closely at the F&M poll results. On the Governor, the report says:

One in five (17%) registered Pennsylvania voters believes Governor Corbett is doing an “excellent” or “good” job as governor, which is below the ratings he received in the May 2013 Franklin & Marshall College Poll. His job performance ratings are much lower than either Governor Rendell or Governor Ridge at similar points in their first terms (see Figure 1). Only one in three (30%) Republicans rate his performance as “excellent” or “good.” In addition, only one in five (20%) voters believes Governor Corbett has performed sufficiently well to deserve re-election. Few Democrats (7%) or independent voters (22%) believe he deserves re-election, but, surprisingly, less than half (38%) of Republicans do.

F&M poll 3 gov. ratings

Figure 1 shows that at comparable times in their governorships, Rendell earned over 40% Excellent + Good ratings, and Ridge over 50%; both scored over 50% at the time of their reelection. Politics is full of rebounds, but at this point it is hard to see how the current Governor can even dream of moving from a 17% to 50% Excellent + Good poll result in the 15 months between now and the November 2014 general election.

What is even more interesting is the analysis of six different issues. When asked “Would you rate the governor’s performance: A for excellent, B, for very good, C for average, D for below average, or F for failing?” voters awarded A or B to the first % and D or F to the second % below (I have calculated from the columns in the poll’s chart 2):

18% / 37% Managing state finances = 2.1
15% / 44% Helping to create new jobs = 2.9
18% / 43% Improving the condition of PA’s roads, bridges, and transit systems = 2.4
19% / 32% Protecting the environment = 1.7
11% / 56% Improving public education = 5.1
12% / 41% Making state government operate more efficiently = 3.4
14% / 44% Improving the state economy = 3.1

In most cases, the DF to AB ratio is between 2 and 3. as shown at the end of each line. His “best” ratio is for Protecting the environment at 19/32 = 1.7.

Making state government operate more efficiently is bad enough at 3.4, but the worst of all is Improving public education at 5.1, with his lowest AB and highest DF totals.

To me, this says that public education is the most important issue of the gubernatorial campaign. John Hanger has been saying that with great specificity for many months, other Dem gubernatorial candidates are starting to talk about it, and I have a feeling that the Governor is getting it too.

This is, indeed, a critical time in the history of American public education. I think the voters understand that; and we will see in November what the impact is in the races for half of the school board seats–six months before the gubernatorial primary.

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About politicswestchesterview

Nathaniel regards himself as a progressive Democrat who sees a serious need to involve more Americans in the political process if we are to rise to Ben Franklin's challenge "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," after a passerby asked him what form of government the founders had chosen. This blog gives my views and background information on the local, state, and national political scenes. My career in higher education was mainly in the areas of international studies, foreign languages, and student advising, most recently at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, from which I retired in 2006. I have lived in West Chester since 1986.
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