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3/9: Go Figure

Governor David Paterson is under siege with a series of swirling controversies… the awarding of bids for the Aqueduct racino, his conversations with a woman who has accused a top aide to the governor of domestic violence, and the cloud over how the governor obtained Yankees’ World Series tickets.  As daily revelations are brought forth by The New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, and other media, New York’s public opinion community has been busy trying to keep tabs on changing voter sentiment.  So far, the data points to seeming contradictions.

miringoff-caricature-430The Marist Poll released today, as well as those conducted by other organizations, shows Governor Paterson’s approval rating is scraping bottom.  Yet, voters don’t want him to resign.  New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, expected to announce his candidacy for governor once he can see his way clear of the Paterson investigation, had been the most popular statewide pol in New York.  Yet, he is taking a hit in the current atmosphere and voters prefer an independent investigation of possible Paterson wrongdoing over Cuomo’s probe.

There is little doubt voters disapprove of just about every aspect of Governor Paterson’s tenure.  His approval rating is below that of former Governor Cuomo in 1994, the year he was defeated.  Paterson’s numbers today trail what former Governor Pataki received in 2006, the year he decided not to seek re-election.  Paterson is even more unpopular now than former Governor Eliot Spitzer was during the height of the sex scandal that forced his resignation and brought Paterson to power.  But, New Yorkers are willing to give the governor the benefit of the doubt… at least in the short run.

Although voters are not calling for Governor Paterson’s resignation, it is not a ringing endorsement.  If he doesn’t resign, most fear he will be ineffective in the remaining months of his term.  Although most think he has done something wrong, in the absence of further evidence, New York voters don’t think he acted illegally and hence, should not step down.  Others also say his stepping aside now would do the state more harm than good.   With 41% of the electorate unable to rate Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, maybe there is something about the governor you know being better than the governor you don’t.

The Cuomo report, expected in a couple of weeks, may ultimately be the final straw.  But, Attorney General Cuomo must walk a fine line as he transitions to candidate Cuomo.   As potential future candidate Cuomo, he remains the strong favorite for governor.  But, as attorney general, Cuomo is being tainted by his role as the investigator.  Many now question whether he should continue with his investigation or turn matters over to an independent prosecutor.  Oddly, the governor is not among those who want to pull the plug on the attorney general and is standing by his initial request that Cuomo conduct the investigation.

As events unfold, this much is clear: the argument being advanced by some of Governor Paterson’s supporters – that he is being unfairly singled out – will not wash with the majority of New Yorkers.  Voters want the process to be a fair one, and that’s exactly what they believe Paterson is getting.

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Lee M. Miringoff is the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Follow Lee on Twitter at @LeeMiringoff.

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