The 2010 Ohio gubernatorial election will be a referendum on Governor Ted Strickland.
The new PPP poll, their first since last June, tells an amazing story of an "unusually unpopular" Strickland and the immense difficulties he faces if he wants to make the Governor's race competitive.
Some background on PPP before we move on. Public Policy Polling is a Dem firm. This doesn't necessarily reflect any biases towards Democrats, but it does help put things into perspective. Second, the polling sample included Ohioans who had voted at least once in the past three general elections. This puts them somewhere between Registered and Likely voters. Not exactly a poll that clearly benefits the Democrat, but not the most accurate reflection of those most likely to vote in November.
So what did we learn? Let's get to it.
1. Independents are winning the race for John Kasich.
By winning Independents 47-24, Kasich is in command of the race. But this isn't necessarily because of anything Kasich is doing, but moreso because of the amazing level of frustration coming from Independents towards Strickland. Which leads to...
2. Strickland is very, very, very unpopular.
Compared with last June, Strickland's approval has seen a net decrease of an amazing 15%, coming in at 33-47. Clearly, the jobs crisis, the budget mess, and the woefully dull State of the State has done nothing to help his case among Ohioans.
Among Independents Strickland has seen an even more drastic swing, losing a net 31 points since last June.
What about his Democratic base? Well, despite being in office nearly four years only 53% of DEMOCRATS approve of him. When just under half of your base doesn't approve of the job you've done, you have to wonder how in the hell you're going to (1) change their minds, and (2) convince them so enthusiastically that they go out and vote.
3. Kasich who?
John Kasich still remains relatively unknown with 50% not knowing enough about him to have an opinion. Among those who do know him, he stands at an overall 1:1 ratio of favorability. With Independents, that ratio stays relatively unchanged. This stands as the most negative perception of Kasich yet from any publicly released poll. That doesn't mean 1:1 is necessarily bad, especially considering PPP fails to measure the level of approval and disapproval.
Yet despite their lack of knowledge or relative approval of Kasich, they still think so little of Strickland that they have no problem pulling the level for the GOP challenger. Additionally, even if Dems are able to keep Kasich at a relatively mediocre approval rating of 1:1 through election day, this poll shows they still have a long way to go to win the race. Democrats can't just tear down Kasich, they need to build up Strickland's brand, and without an economic turnaround, that simply isn't going to happen.
4. Curious where Ohio stands re: Party ID?
PPP's poll breaks down the voting blocs as 42% Democrat, 39% Republican, and 19% Independent/Other. Sounds about right.
5. Can Obama help?
Not yet he can't. In a later post on their blog, PPP previewed presidential numbers coming out later today.
It's a similar story in Ohio. He won there by four points in 2008 but our approval numbers there for him tomorrow will show him at -13 (40/53) for a drop of 17 points.In summary, the PPP poll shows moreso than any previously released poll that the 2010 election is first and foremost a referendum on Governor Strickland. Despite reasonably meh favorability numbers from Kasich, voters still are so disgusted with Strickland that they can't stand pulling the lever.
The problem Strickland now faces is this, 'how can I win them back'? The answer? You can't. It's too late. Without a gamechanging event, Ohio's way of life will not be substantively changing in time for the electorate's mood to evolve over the course of this election year.
Unemployment will stay high. No substantive health care benefits will kick in. Nothing will change.
So Strickland is faced with the reality of needing to run one of the most negative campaigns Ohio has ever seen in order to completely delegitimize Kasich as a viable alternative to the electorate. Yet, at the same time, he needs to convince the voters who currently have highly unfavorable opinions of him to come back to the fold.
As history has shown, it's virtually impossible to have it both ways.
Ted Strickland needs a miracle.