Our study takes a look at the comparison of poll numbers for Governor Rick Snyder, comparing them to Governor John Engler and Governor Jennifer Granholm one year before they had to face the voters for their first re-election. While every campaign is different, it is certainly interesting to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate going into their first re-election efforts.
The Intangible Historical Factors
If history is an indicator of future election results, Governor Snyder is certainly favored in 2014. The last time an incumbent Michigan Governor lost in his or her first re-election campaign was 52 years ago in 1962 when Governor Swainson lost to Governor Romney – and this was when Michigan had two-year terms for Governor. Since we shifted to four-year terms for governor in 1966, every Michigan Governor has won re-election for a second term.
Historically, the party holding the presidency tends to lose more state level elections in the off-year elections. This historical trend is referred to as the ‘failed expectations of the current presidential administration.’ Governor Engler’s first election was held in the middle of the first term of President Bill Clinton, and Governor Granholm’s re-election was held in the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term. Governor Snyder will also be running while the opposition party holds the presidency during the middle of President Obama’s second term.
If historical circumstances have anything to do with it, Governor Snyder certainly has the edge in November 2014.
There is a standard set of questions that we ask in every political poll that measures the mood of the electorate and strength of the incumbents. We can also look at these numbers over a period of time to determine if they are improving or getting worse. These indicators help determine the strength of the candidate and whether the mood of the electorate will benefit, or hurt, the candidate’s chances of re-election.
Right Direction and Wrong Track
Q. Do you feel things in the State of Michigan are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track?
Currently, 43 percent of the voters believe things are going in the right direction in Michigan, while 47 percent think things are off on the wrong track. While these numbers are slightly negative, they are better than they were at this time in both the Engler and Granholm administrations. More importantly, the numbers are headed in the right direction for Governor Snyder, as only 27 percent thought the state was headed in the right direction in our first poll following his election in March of 2010 – just like it was in Engler’s first term.
Direction of the Economy
Thinking about a year from now, do you think the Michigan economy will be better, will be worse or stay about the same?
Currently, 32 percent of the voters believe that the economy is going to improve in the next year, while 14 percent believe it will get worse. Those numbers are more positive than they were for Engler or Granholm during their third year in office. However, they are not as positive under Snyder than they were when he came into office in 2011. The voter’s attitudes have not become more negative, but they have shifted into the neutral position of “things will stay the same.” While these numbers are not alarming for the Governor, he will need to build confidence in the next year to convince voters that his plan is working.
Do you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of the job (name of Governor) is doing as Governor?
Governor Snyder’s job approval rating is at 56 percent with 41 percent disapproving of the job he’s doing. His job approval is higher than both Engler and Granholm at the same time in their first terms, but so is his disapproval rating. In fact, only 3 percent of the electorate does not have an opinion of the job the Governor is currently doing. Snyder’s job approval is positive and heading in the right direction, but his first three years have also been contentious and that has hardened the opposition.
Now, I will read to you the names of some people in the news. For each, please tell me whether or not you have heard of that person. If you are aware of the name, please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable impression of that person.
At this time, 49 percent of the voters have a positive perception of the governor while 42 percent view him negatively. His overall personal perception is positive and has improved over the past three years, but his negative numbers have grown faster. In fact, it is the only one of our bellwether polling statistics where Governor Snyder trails both Granholm and Engler. Interestingly, voters do not have to personally like you to vote for you, but it wouldn’t hurt to soften up the data driven “nerd” image to have the voters warm up to him.
If these four polling questions were the Governor’s dashboard for re-election, four out of four would be positive, three out of four would be better than the past two Governor’s at this time in their first term in office, and two out of four would be trending in the right direction.
This data, along with the historical voting trends, certainly favor a Snyder re-election at this time. But the Governor also has significant opposition among Michigan’s electorate and will have to work hard to protect his current advantage in 2014.
Click here to download the complete Historical Perspective presentation and analysis