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OP-ED | Christie-Cuomo Envy: Why Malloy’s Approvals Stink

by Terry D. Cowgill | Dec 6, 2013 6:30am
(8) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

Cuomo, Malloy and Christie

It must keep Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his political advisers up nights. Why is Connecticut’s governor plagued with low approval ratings while those of his more famous regional rivals are edging toward the roof?

A recently released Quinnipiac University poll is a case in point. It shows New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with 62-25 percent approval ratings, up from 53-30 in June and less than a year away from a presumed re-election bid. Cuomo is a Democrat in a blue state, so you would expect him to have his head well above water. But his numbers are remarkably high in just about every demographic imaginable.

In a hypothetical 2014 re-election match-up against a likely opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Cuomo is a landslide favorite at 56-25 percent. Cuomo has a commanding lead in every region of the state, including the GOP-leaning upstate at 53-37. And he does surprisingly well even with Republicans statewide, 40 percent of whom say he deserves to be re-elected.

Cuomo’s numbers are particularly surprising when you consider that President Obama’s approvals in the state of New York are only 47-49. Upstate, Obama’s numbers are abysmal at 38-57. But Cuomo continues to soar.

On New York’s southeastern border, Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a regional rival of Malloy’s, just coasted to an easy 60-38 percent re-election victory over state Sen. Barbara Buono. Christie’s big win was expected, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

As I’ve reported before, Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by a ratio of almost 2-1 — and the margin is growing — but Christie garnered the support of 32 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of those who identify as liberals, according to exit polls. And Christie carried an astonishing two-thirds of those who aren’t enrolled in either major party.

Meanwhile back in the Nutmeg State, Democrat Malloy limps along with his party in control of both houses of the General Assembly, all the big cities, all of the state’s constitutional offices, and all seven congressional delegates. A June QPoll had him at 47-47. While Malloy’s approvals have been inching up this year as the economy has seen marginal improvement, they are still stuck in the below-50 range. And a QPoll from June had Malloy losing to likely Republican challenger Tom Foley, 43-40.

So why does Malloy’s 2014 re-election appear in doubt while Cuomo looks like a shoo-in and Christie coasted to victory last month? My guess is it’s a combination of substance and style.

Like Malloy, Cuomo and Christie were faced with fiscal crises that demanded decisive action not long after they were elected. Swollen state governments clearly needed to be reined in, but both Cuomo and Christie resisted calls from the usual suspects for large tax increases. And as both Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker demonstrated recently, standing firm in the face of pressure from public-sector labor unions can be both good policy and good politics.

Malloy, on the other hand, wasted little time in calling for what would be one of the largest tax increases in state history. At the same time, he extracted only modest concessions from state employee unions, causing many to feel that his policy of “shared sacrifice” had a hollow ring. While the budget recently has been brought into balance, the Office of Fiscal Analysis sees deficits between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion over the next three fiscal years. The outlook in New York and New Jersey is better, in part because of an improving stock market.

So the giant tax increase did not solve our problems. And Connecticut has one of the worst-performing economies of all 50 states in the last two years. That might be one of the reasons Malloy made NPR’s list of the five most vulnerable governors in the nation.

Combine those stubborn facts with Malloy’s prickly personality, and his re-election prospects grow more doubtful by the day. But if Foley continues to shoot himself in the foot with baseless charges against the governor, then the weakened Democrat might stumble to victory. Malloy can only hope.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at and was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(8) Comments

posted by: cnj-david | December 6, 2013  6:55am

You’re correct about the financial aspects, despite claims to the contrary by the current administration. 
Our economy here in Connecticut is in dreadful shape.  Malloy gave us the largest tax increase in memory, yet we’ve got little to show for it and one of the largest unemployment rates in the nation.

Combine that with his autocratic trampling of what were our strong Freedom of Information laws, what he terms “reasonable gun control laws”, and his questionable fund raising activities and you’ve got a sitting governor who will be voted out next election.

posted by: ABC | December 6, 2013  1:56pm

Gutbomb - Help me understand your thinking. 

Do you have a public pension or a retirement plan of some sort?  Lots of people do.  Chances are that your pension plan invests in McDonalds.  So what would happen to the return on your plan if McDonalds decided to become far less profitable by unilaterally paying workers more?  Would you agree that the return on McDonalds stock would go down?

And would you agree that because you pay your pension plan managers to maximize financial returns on your pension plan that there would be a good chance that they would choose to divest your retirement funds from McDonalds and look for better financial returns elsewhere?

And would you agree that if McDonalds lost its ability to attract your capital, that the company would be unable to grow, begin to shrink, start to produce inferior food product, eventually lose out to competition, and ultimately disappear? 

So what happens to all the workers?

posted by: Fred | December 6, 2013  5:41pm

Whatever problems Gov. Malloy is facing in terms of public approval, there is little parallel between the situation he faced and those that Christie and Cuomo faced.  The deficit in CT was proportionately much larger, and Gov. Rell with the collaboration of the Legislature had stripped the cupboard bare.  If CT had addressed the massive deficit through just cuts, it would have added 40,000 to the unemployed and driven the state into a much much worse condition.  That said, the tax increase was not in and of itself sufficient to restore the state’s economic health.  CT has been sick for twenty five years (or longer); it had created virtually no net new jobs since 1989, the worst record in the nation.  This hard reality makes starkly clear that CT has a profound structural problem in its economy, a problem that had been developing for decades.  Merely increasing taxes and cutting services (Malloy did both) does nothing to address that structural problem.  And unless and untill CT recognizes this structural deficit and addresses it effectively, no amount of budgetary gymnastics will avoid the fiscal pit the state faces.  ONLY restoring the state’s economic competitiveness and driving job creation and growth will deliver the revenue necessary to meet current and future commmitments.

Unfortunately, our debates do not revolve around that challenge—but ultimately it is the challenge that really matters.


posted by: Mediawatcher | December 6, 2013  5:52pm

No need to get too excited by Christie’s seeming landslide. A look at turnout numbers shows Democrats were so unhappy with their candidate they stayed home. Details here (see bar graph at bottom). A viable candidate would have meant very different margins.

Also, our economy still sucks, and Christie’s win translated into exactly zero in terms of legislative coattails. Competitive legislative districts show a big margin for Christie and an equally big margin for the Democratic legislative candidates. As this story says, “the only person to blame for the lack of coattails is the guy wearing the coat.”

posted by: StillRevolting | December 6, 2013  10:02pm

Hi Fred, Thanks for the balance and the accuracy of the long-term assessment! My concern is that after three years of Malloy, I’m paying more to the state and have only seen us drop further in national rankings such as educational and income gaps, job creation, and economic growth (oh, wait we are the only state not to have any for the last two years running.) Terry is dead-on. The combination of Malloy’s dreadful personal carriage and the wretched ROI when compared to his insistence on my shared sacrifice and that of any middle-class family just hoping to remain in the middle-class is enough for me to support the most absurd opposition possible next fall.

posted by: Commuter | December 7, 2013  10:44pm

Terry, what did you do, conduct a survey of the most conventional wisdom you could find? This is the laziest excuse for a column yet.

Make an effort, will you? There are at least a few people out there who will be happy (or at least willing) to help you find your way up the learning curve if you just make the effort to hear what they have to say.

It must keep Malloy and his advisors up nights…? I’ll bet not.

The tax increase and the cuts to the cost of government are not for low-information voters (nor low-information columnists), but there is no mystery about what was done to anybody actually informed on the subject, and those of us paying attention can see that Malloy, and his team, definitely are so informed.

As Fred asserts, our debates should revolve around restoring the state’s economic competitiveness and driving job creation and growth.

posted by: Dean2030 | December 7, 2013  11:35pm

Lets not forget about Malloy’s treatment of teachers.  He won the last election by a small margin and then offended tens of thousands of teacher voters.  On top of it, he made a deal with one union head, Sharon Palmer of the Hartford AFT, who he made commissioner of the Department of Labor shortly after the education law negotiations.  He will lose because he is corrupt with union heads, Northeast Utilities, and his First 5 corporate welfare recipients.

posted by: StanMuzyk | December 8, 2013  6:04pm

Many Democrats in the state, unfortunately, are still supporting Gov. Malloy—even though they know that Dannel and his helpers—“are also picking their pockets.” Hang in there as the governors’s job approval ratings keep dropping.