Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s approval rating went into freefall after he announced more than $440 million in vetoes, including the wholesale defunding of the Senior Benefits Program and an effective gutting of the University of Alaska, according to one pollster who was in the field during the vetoes.
The governor’s approval rating fell 10 points after releasing the vetoes while his disapproval rating rose by seven.
Patinkin Research Strategies polled 600 likely 2020 voters between June 26 and July 1 and, according to a polling memo provided to The Midnight Sun, saw a dramatic difference before and after June 28 when the governor announced his vetoes.
In pre-veto polling from June 26 to June 27, 41 percent of Alaskans approved of the governor’s job while 57 percent didn’t. With a net approval rating of -16, it was already bad news for the governor who debuted at a net approval rating of -4 according to polling conducted by Patinkin Research in late February and early March after the release of the budget.
The post-veto polling, when Dunleavy generally made his budget reality, is unsurprisingly worse.
“Even worse, as we continued calling immediately after the vetoes (June 28-July 1) a sharp decline manifests,” the memo explains. “Dunleavy’s positive ratings fell a full 10-points in four days, while his negative reviews jumped seven points, putting him at 31% positive and 64% negative.”
That’s right, Dunleavy’s net approval rating went from an already-dismal -16 to a disastrous -33.
Patinkin Research Strategies owner and president Ben Patinkin released a statement along with the results, explaining that the polling shows the problems run deep for the governor.
“The precipitous fall in his job ratings post vetoes should be of serious concern for Governor Dunleavy,” he saud. “His coalition is dissolving. Only 18% of self-identified independents provide him with positive reviews at this point, while 72% are in the negative camp. Even Republicans are starting to jump ship, with a 10-point drop in the Governor’s net margin amongst this critical base group by Monday evening.”
The polling memo doesn’t mention if the polling was done for a client, but it has a self-reported margin of error of 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. Cell phones accounted for half of the interviews.
Why it matters
Based on the outpouring of opposition to the vetoes whether it be demonstrations, public testimony or direct correspondence with legislators, these results shouldn’t be all that surprising. The cuts hit particularly popular state services like the Senior Benefits Program, a cash benefit system for low-income seniors and we’ve heard testimony about how the cuts mean some seniors are already going hungry, and have mobilized a particularly large, vocal and diverse coalition of opposition.
With election season already on the mind of many legislators, the override process will be rich political grounds and center in next year’s elections (and not to mention that the governor has said he plans a similar-sized reduction next year when K-12 money is on the table). The override votes—even if they come up short—would create a clear, lasting record of legislators who sided with Dunleavy over the public.
Perhaps that’s why House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, the Anchorage Republican whose wife has a communications contract with the Dunleavy administration, argued against even taking up the veto overrides at all.
“Right now, if you do not have the numbers to override the governor, the only reason you’re doing it is for political gain; you’re trying to put people on record,” he told KTVA. “That does not bode well for creating a positive environment from which to work together going forward for the rest of this term.”
He suggested, instead of “going through the torture of having people vote up or down on vetoes” that the Legislature pass a separate bill that restores some funding for programs.
Of course, that bill would also be subject to veto and could leave programs without funding for potentially months.
The special session is due to start today at 1 p.m. Legislative leadership plans on convening in Juneau even though the governor has demanded they meet in his hometown of Wasilla.
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