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Published: Tuesday, 11/29/2005

Taft's approval ratings sink into single digits

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Gov. Bob Taft's approval ratings have hit single digits.

But Ohio Republicans shouldn't hit the panic button, a new statewide poll suggests.

A Zogby International online survey, conducted a week after the Nov. 8 election and released yesterday, shows just 6.5 percent of Ohio voters view the embattled GOP governor very or somewhat favorably. Barely 3 percent rate his job performance as "good" or "excellent."

"I'm not aware of anyone who's ever sunk lower," pollster John Zogby said.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said Mr. Taft should have resigned after pleading guilty in August to misdemeanor ethics charges for failing to report dozens of gifts and golf outings to state officials.

The charges stemmed from a scandal involving Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe, a former Republican fund-raiser and Taft golfing partner who was recently indicted on charges that include laundering money to President Bush's campaign.

Mr. Bush, for his part, registered a 46 percent favorable rating in the poll.

Nearly 50 percent of Zogby respondents said Mr. Taft ran a "purposely corrupt" administration as governor, while 33 percent called his office the victim of "corrupt in-dividuals who scammed the state."

Mr. Zogby said he has seen only one other politician dip below 10 percent approval: former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who hit 7 percent while immersed in a bribery scandal.

A spokesman for Mr. Taft dismissed the results and questioned Zogby's Internet methodology. "Governor Taft does not govern by the polls," said Mark Rickel, the spokesman, "especially one that does not appear to be scientific."

The poll surveyed 698 self-identified "likely" Ohio voters online from Nov. 15-17 and weighted the results slightly to reflect state demographics. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. Zogby conducted similar post-election surveys in California, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Ohio's results show voters, despite their anger with Mr. Taft, divided evenly over which political party they trust to run state government, with 38 percent choosing Democrats and 37 percent Republicans.

Asked which party was more "organized and effective," 52 percent said Republicans, compared to 12 percent for Democrats, who haven't won a statewide executive election in 15 years and who are currently looking for a new state party chairman. Only 30 percent - mostly self-declared Democrats - said it was time for a change in state government because no party should lead the state uninterrupted for so long.

Fewer than one in four said four so-called reform measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, which were pitched as an antidote to GOP scandal and all failed, "would have cleaned up a corrupt state government."

"It gives us additional evidence that there's much work to be done," said State Rep. Chris Redfern, the House Democratic Leader and a candidate for party chairman. "As Democrats, we can't just point to the other side and say they're crooks.... You have to give people a reason to vote for you."

Another candidate for the chairmanship, Susan Gwinn, said that to win next year, Democrats must build a statewide infrastructure to increase voter turnout.

"Message is part of it," said Ms. Gwinn, the Athens County Democratic chairman, who announced her candidacy yesterday, "but I would say that the biggest piece of the puzzle is getting our voters out."

A spokesman for the state Republican Party said he didn't put much stock in the results but said it was clear Democrats were "a party in disarray."

"You have to have an agenda for the state, you have to have ideas, and you have to have candidates the voters can trust," said John McClelland, the spokesman, "and heading into 2006, we are confident in the slate of candidates we have on the ballot for the Republican Party."

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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