Gov. Rick Scott is one of the least popular governors in the United States, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows 57 percent of Florida voters disapprove of his job performance.
Only 29 percent favor the job Scott is doing, the poll of 1,196 registered voters shows.
Scott's job-performance numbers mirror public sentiment about the state budget, which cuts spending on schools, health care and programs for the environment. Scott plans to cut even more and is expected today to veto more than $350 million in spending, mulling whether to break predecessor Charlie Crist's 2007 veto record of $459 million.
The poll finds that 54 percent of voters say the budget is "unfair" to someone like them, while 29 percent favor it.
"The data on the perceived fairness of the governor's budget is crucial. When voters by almost 2-1 say his approach is unfair to them, that's a giant flashing political warning sign for Scott," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "When voters don't think they are being treated fairly, they tend to react negatively."
Voters are even more fed up with the economy, perhaps the biggest drag on Scott or any other political leader in the nation. In Florida, 61 percent say they're dissatisfied in general.
When asked about his low poll numbers Wednesday, Scott shrugged it off.
"My job is to get our state back to work. My job is to make sure this is the state that's most likely to succeed," he said on the Sid Rosenberg Show on WQAM radio in South Florida.
Scott's job approval rating is the lowest of any governor out of the six states polled by Quinnipiac, a Connecticut university that also surveys voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and its home state. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn have job-approval ratings comparable to Scott's, though the surveys were taken at different times or by pollsters other than Quinnipiac's.
Brown said he was unaware of any poll of any other governor showing a lower approval rating. Nor could pollsters John Zogby, Matt Towery, Brad Coker or Tom Jensen cite a lower rating. A Times/Herald survey of recent polls of controversial governors in large states showed Scott has the lowest approval rating.
The Quinnipiac poll, which has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, was released the day before Scott travels to the Republican-friendly retirement community of the Villages, where he plans to host a campaign-style celebration of his signing of the $69.7 billion budget. Scott plans to veto millions of dollars of spending, particularly hometown projects inserted by top members of the Republican-led Legislature, which has job-approval ratings comparable to Scott's.
Scott has called the proposal a "jobs budget" that will help get Florida's economy moving. But despite the nickname, the budget will lead to more layoffs in the short term because it eliminates nearly 4,500 state worker positions, thousands of which are currently filled. Scott says that shrinking the footprint of government will help the private sector flourish.
But 61 percent of voters say they believe the budget won't help create jobs, compared with 26 percent who say it will. Thirty-eight percent say the budget could hurt the state's economy, 31 percent say it will make no difference, and 23 percent say the budget will help.
There are two different ways to view budget cuts. From one perspective, the Republican-controlled Legislature closed a nearly $3.8 billion budget gap that opened up as a result of increased needs and decreased revenues. From another perspective, the Legislature reduced basic bottom-line spending by $700 million when you compare the current budget with the budget Scott plans to sign today.
Either way, 47 percent of voters say the budget cuts too much, 22 percent say the cuts are just about right and 18 percent say lawmakers didn't cut enough.
In a sign Scott has had trouble communicating his message, the poll shows that only 42 percent of voters believe he has kept his word to avoid raising taxes or fees, while 40 percent say he broke the pledge. Though the budget raises college tuition — a measure Scott could veto — he hasn't raised taxes.
Scott's abysmal numbers could make it tougher to press his agenda in the future and make him less of a draw to Republicans running for the White House. Scott's predecessor, Crist, had sky-high poll numbers that led presidential hopefuls to make pilgrimages to Tallahassee. So far, only former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has paid Scott a courtesy call in the out-of-the-way state Capitol.
Scott's numbers aren't the worst of any governor. Democrat Lawton Chiles in 1992 had an approval rating of 22 percent while 76 percent gave him a negative rating. Chiles went on to beat Jeb Bush in 1994. The pollster who conducted that survey, Brad Coker with Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, pointed out that Chiles' bad poll numbers were the result of the state's botched response to Hurricane Andrew.
"Rick Scott doesn't have that excuse," Coker said.
Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina firm, reported Wednesday that Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich's approval numbers have plummeted to the point that 33 percent of his state's voters approve of his job performance and 56 percent disapprove — nearly matching Scott's approval ratings in a March survey. Like Kasich and Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Scott has successfully called for reductions in taxes, regulations and state-worker benefits.
Public Policy's Tom Jensen said his firm has polled 40 state governors and Scott stands out as one of the least-liked — and the least concerned about it. He said nearly every governor of a big state is struggling due to the economy and voter discontent.
"If there was a governor who wouldn't come back," Jensen said, "it would be Rick Scott because it seems he's the least likely to care if he's not popular."
Marc Caputo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.