Tag Archives: Castleton Polling Institute

Shumlin’s numbers are down. In other news, Sun Rises In East.

That’s not a Gatorade bath, Governor: it’s a big ol’ bucket of cold water.

For the first time in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s tenure, more Vermonters disapprove of his job performance than approve of it.

A new VTDigger/Castleton Polling Institute survey shows that 47 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job Shumlin, a Democrat, is doing as governor and 41 percent approve.

You know, the fact that his numbers are down is completely unsurprising. Indeed, when you consider that he only got 46% of the vote last November, the bigger surprise is that 41% of us still got Shumlin’s back.

Look at what’s happened since that disastrous November vote: Shumlin abandoned his signature proposal, single-payer health care; the state’s budget deficit continued to grow; the Democratic legislature rejected much of his third-term agenda; the government faces major challenges on school funding, Lake Champlain, and that darn budget.  It’s not exactly shocking that he’s down to 41%.

Still, the Governor is underwater for the first time in his tenure. That’s not good.

The VTDigger/Castleton poll is very thorough, and offers a wealth of subsidiary numbers. The one that ought to worry Shumlin the most: only 62% of Democrats view him positively. That means he’s lost nearly 40% of the loyalists.

His 37% support among independents looks worse — and indeed, that’s how it’s interpreted by Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis. He notes that neither party can win without the independent voters, who form a majority of our electorate. But when President Obama’s approval hit a low of 40% shortly before the midterm elections, he had 33% support among independents. Shumlin does better than that. But even at his lowest point, the President still enjoyed broad support among Democrats. That’s no longer true for Shumlin.

And that’s why you hear a lot of speculation around Montpelier about a possible Democratic primary. There’s a great deal of disaffection on the left, and definitely room in the Democratic Party for a challenge to the incumbent. It still seems unlikely; Vermont politicos show a great deal of deference to incumbents, and Shumlin would remain a formidable figure in a primary.

What’s more likely, if the numbers keep getting worse, is that Shumlin himself might think better of another campaign. “More likely” but not likely; it’s hard to imagine Peter Shumlin retreating into a hidey-hole without a fight.

It is interesting, though, that House Speaker Shap Smith appears to be laying the groundwork for a statewide run. On his own initiative, he has assembled two high-powered, and heavily centrist-leaning, committees to tackle tough issues: education and economic growth. That’s a sign of someone who’s looking to (a) craft new approaches to those issues while also building consensus, and (b) establish connections and build credibility with the business community and others who might prove useful in a run for Governor.

The Vermont Republican Party certainly sees him as a threat, given their endless series of (largely ignored) press releases about the alleged failures of the “Shumlin-Shap Smith economy.”

On the other hand, we are less than five months past the 2014 election and 19 months away from the next one. A lot could happen. There are definite signs of progress in the legislature; not on the budget so far, but on a range of other issues, from education to energy to child protection to the environment.

If the legislature has a productive session and manages to close the budget gap in a reasonable way, the Governor will get at least some of the credit. If things start to look brighter in Vermont by this time next year, so will Shumlin’s approval numbers. He could still get his mojo back. And betting against him is never a good investment.

So what happened with the polls?

Ah, the opinion polls, with their oft-trumpeted 4% margins of error.

Well, they missed the Governor’s race by a lot more than that, didn’t they?

The consensus, such as it was, gave Governor Shumlin a 12-point edge. Right now, the Associated Press has him at 46.4% and Scott Milne at 45.4%. Feel free to check my math, but I think that’s a margin of one percent. 

The polls were off by almost 11 percentage points.

The difference? Virtually every undecided voter went for Scott Milne. Which is unheard-of; usually, the undecideds don’t all go stampeding in one direction.

Plus, the Associated Press is reporting that Vermont had a record low turnout. The Democratic GOTV machine just couldn’t overcome the broad disaffection with the current administration, and the widespread belief that this election wasn’t close, which made it easier to stay home.

So, Milne got a larger chunk of a smaller electorate.

Let’s take the most recent Castleton Polling Inistute survey, reported on Oct.12.


From Oct. 12 to last night, what happened? Governor Shumlin lost a sliver of his support while convincing no undecideds. Scott Milne gained a whopping ten percent by nabbing all the undecideds and poaching nearly two-thirds of Dan Feliciano’s supporters.

What does that say? It says that Governor Shumlin lost the middle, in spite of all his triangulating. And he lost ALL of the middle. And, I suspect, a fair bit of support on the left, who either sat out the Governor’s race or made a protest vote for Milne or a write-in. (Doug Racine, anyone?)

Or just stayed home, not feeling motivated to re-elect Shumlin and feeling (falsely) secure in the knowledge that their absence wouldn’t make much difference in what was thought to be a Democratic cakewalk.

The new polls, part 2: The only thing Shumlin has to fear is Shumlin himself

(See also part 1, which addressed the Phil Scott/Dean Corren results.)

The latest gubernatorial poll from the Castleton Polling Institute (courtesy of WCAX-TV) is a picture of stagnation, with an electorate disappointed in the incumbent, but finding no acceptable alternatives. The results are right in line with other recent surveys, with the helpful addition of Dan Feliciano clarifying the picture somewhat.

The numbers: Shumlin 47, Milne 35, Feliciano 6, and undecided at 8.

A secondary result, underpinning the above: 45% approve of Governor Shumlin’s performance, 41% disapprove. Bad numbers for an established incumbent, especially for one who was in the 60s at his height.

But while the poll is bad for Shumlin, it’s also bad for his challengers. As WCAX’s dueling analysts put it:

“I don’t think Mr. Milne has given the public a reason to vote for him and that is what Mr. Milne’s challenge is going to be in the next six weeks,” said Mike Smith, Republican political analyst.

How about a shot of 5-Hour Energy?

How about a shot of 5-Hour Energy?

“I think these numbers show that there’s one candidate against Peter Shumlin and that is Peter Shumlin,” said Steve Terry, Democratic political analyst.

Milne is stuck in the mid-30s. And Feliciano, for all the insider buzz about his candidacy, is only taking a small chunk of the conservative vote. Six percent is a lot for a Libertarian, but not much for someone who’d positioned himself as the real alternative to Shumlin. As I wrote before, there’s a whole lot of value in the Republican brand, and a deep loyalty among core Republican voters.

As for the independents and undecideds, they’re stuck. Given the 41% Milne/Feliciano total, I infer that Milne has gained a small number of centrists simply by Not Being Shumlin, while he’s lost a few percentage points to Feliciano among the True Believers. Overall it’s a wash, and not nearly enough to win. And the Governor is the only candidate with the resources to get his message out between now and Election Day. Although the big headline was that Shumlin is under the 50% mark, he still stands a solid chance of not only gaining a pure majority, but getting up into the mid-50s. That’d be a decent, if not overwhelming, mandate.

So, in a solidly blue state, why are Shumlin’s numbers so mediocre? The experts point to the obvious: Vermont Health Connect, the human services troubles, and the Jeremy Dodge land deal.

The first two I buy. The last, nope. I don’t think anybody outside the political media remembers that deal. After initial missteps, Shumlin dealt with it wisely and effectively. Remember “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup”? Well, in the Dodge deal, there was no coverup. There was a fast and fair resolution.

All right, so now I have to offer my own explanation. In two words:

The doldrums.

Which is partly the VHC and human services problems. But more than that, it’s the lack of real, tangible, landmark achievements.

Which is reflected in Shumlin’s third campaign commercial, focusing on the GMO bill. Now, nice as that bill was, it was a sideshow in this year’s legislative session. And, as Paul Heintz pointed out, it’s a stretch to give the Governor much credit:

For years, Shumlin said he backed GMO labeling in concept, but believed that mandating it was legally perilous. He argued that any such attempt would suffer the same fate as Vermont’s 1994 law requiring dairy products produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone to be labeled as such. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down in 1996 and awarded damages.

But leave that aside for the moment. The bigger question: Is the GMO bill really the Governor’s signature accomplishment for 2014?

I guess it is. Given the size of the Democratic majority and the big issues facing Vermont, that’s a little bit underwhelming. And I think the voters are underwhelmed. One of Scott Milne’s best lines in yesterday’s WCAX debate concerned school funding: “The Governor had huge approval ratings and big majorities, and he didn’t do anything.”

Shumlin’s signature issue, single-payer health care, is still a mystery shrouded in an enigma. He can’t brag about it, because he hasn’t done it yet. Or even offered a plan. That’s not exactly motivational.

There are solid reasons to defend the Governor’s record. He’s dealt with the aftermath of the 2008 recession and Tropical Storm Irene. He’s had to pull rabbits out of his hat to keep the state budget under control as the federal stimulus funds ebbed away. He’s also taken some good, incremental steps in areas like human services and college affordability. The minimum wage hike was nice. He’s done a lot on renewable energy. His opioid initiative holds great promise, but has yet to bear fruit.

Those are not accomplishments to be sneezed at. They are strong indications of substantial administrative competence. That’s important. But it’s not inspirational.

I think that, more than anything else, Vermont voters are uninspired. When Shumlin launched his active campaign in early September, his challenge was to light a fire in his supporters — and perhaps even in himself. So far, he hasn’t really done it.

IF he does it between now and Election Day, he’ll get into the mid-50s. If he doesn’t, he’ll limp across the finish line in the 50-52% range.