Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Polling Susana Martinez: Her Popularity Plunge Confirmed By Latest Survey, Approval Sinks to 42 Percent; Now What? Analysis And Context On The State's 31st Governor  

The bubble of denial about the polls we've been carrying that show Governor Susana Martinez's approval rating plummeting from an all time high of 69 percent in her first term into the low 40's was finally punctured this week.

The ABQ Journal conducted its own survey of likely voters and confirmed what informed readers here have known for months, that Martinez now manages only a 42 percent approval rating, far below the important 50 percent mark.

Veteran pollster Brian Sanderoff was noncommittal when asked if the Governor's infamous December 2015 holiday pizza party has anything to do with her decline. But it does and will most certainly be regarded by future observers and historians as the demarcation line between her popularity and unpopularity.

That ill-fated party that so badly damaged her image started the dive and the lousy economy and the administration's inaction toward it is completing the drop. Where it stops is unknown but a bounce back to 50 percent is extremely unlikely. Once you lose the audience, it's hard to get them back. 

Sanderoff rightly points out that it is difficult for any governor to retain popularity into a second term, as witnessed by the polling fates of Governor Richardson and Johnson. Familiarity often indeed does breed contempt. But Martinez has much of her unpopularity to blame on herself.

The stunning finding that now only 56 percent of voters in her own Republican Party support her is testament to the strife and division she has caused within her own ranks. It is also a reflection of the quiet seething among the GOP over the state's economic performance and her hands-off approach.

The approval rating among her own party should be at least near 80 percent. Her disapproval rating among Democrats at 61 percent is bad but not terrible. That it is not much higher among Dems is, according to insider polling, probably due to continued ethnic support among some Hispanic Dems. The bad news for her is that in the next two years she has a lot of downside to explore with D's currently sticking with her.

Remember, this Governor has been and continues to be the recipient of some of the most favorable coverage by the state's largest newspaper and three ABQ TV stations than any modern governor. Without it, her numbers would likely be even worse.


Harvey Yates
The defeat this year of GOP National Committeeman and Martinez acolyte Pat Rogers by Harvey Yates, a leader of the anti-Martinez wing of the GOP, foretold her fate with her party brethren.

Sanderoff says he does not find a tie between Martinez refusing to support GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and her weak GOP approval numbers. However, we'd add that the overall turmoil in the GOP nationally and Martinez trying to stand above that fray has been a factor in her collapse with Republicans.

Clearly, Martinez has deep troubles with her own party but has been able to hold off a public breach with state legislators and other office holders. That's due largely to fear of the Governor's often vicious political machine led by longtime consultant Jay McCleskey.

Privately many R's bemoan Martinez but publicly stay mum because of fear of retribution. That's also the rule of thumb for dissatisfied Republicans in the business community, including in groups such as the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and Economic Forum. However,  this poll could provide some cover to R's who dissent from the Fourth Floor.


Besides Martinez, the person this poll hurts the most is Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. He is tied at the hip to Martinez even though there is no love lost between them. If Sanchez manages to become the '18 GOP Guv nominee as he hopes to, he will have to run on her record. He took tentative steps to separate himself from Martinez, but when he was popped by the Guv's machine on TV news, he stepped back. Sanchez is now in a political pickle.

That opens the door for southern conservative GOP Congressman Steve Pearce to make a play for the nomination. He is not tied to the Governor and can make a plausible case for being an agent of change, at least among R's. If he decides to do it, Sanchez might forgo a battle for the nomination.

For any Democrat seeking the governorship the poll makes the Dem nomination much more valuable. Republican Gov. Johnson was followed by a Democrat. Democrat Richardson was followed by a Republican and it looks as though history could repeat in '18 with voters looking to the opposition party after eight years of Martinez.

Dem US Senator Martin Heinrich, facing his first re-election bid in 2018, a traditionally dangerous time for an incumbent, will have to be watching for possible opponents other than Martinez. With her numbers under water national Republicans are unlikely to help her raise the millions necessary to wage a Senate battle, not that she had that planned. The question now is will the national R's try at all to put the Heinrich seat in play?

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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