2/22: Paterson’s Path to Election

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Governor David Paterson became governor under unusual circumstances.  He has served in turbulent times, and oversees a government that is seen by most New Yorkers as dysfunctional.  He has also compiled unprecedentedly low poll numbers.  How low is low?

miringoff-caricature-430In Marist’s statewide polls dating back nearly three decades, we find an answer.  Former Governor Mario Cuomo’s lowest approval rating was 32%.  It occurred in the fall of 1994, the year he was ousted from office.   Former Governor George Pataki’s low point was 30% during the spring of 2006.  He opted not to seek a fourth term.   Not surprisingly, the bottom fell out on Former Governor Eliot Spitzer during his sex scandal in March, 2008.  What’s shocking number-wise is that even Spitzer’s 30% approval rating, clocked just before his resignation, exceeded Paterson’s lowest score of 17% this past September and the 26% he currently has.

Governor Paterson finds himself having to accomplish something politically akin to going uphill in an Alpine skiing event.  His spirited and feisty campaign kick-off in Hempstead was a good start.  His inspirational story as someone who has already succeeded mightily against huge personal odds is moving and works when he alludes to the state’s dire circumstances.  He doesn’t quit, he isn’t giving up on New York, and neither will New Yorkers.

But, Paterson needs to do more to connect with New York voters.  He talks about his accomplishments and making tough budget decisions, yet New Yorkers are anxious for results.   Although he scores better on handling the state’s fiscal problems than his overall approval rating, his numbers are even low here.   His claim of being an outsider is probably a reach for a sitting governor and lifetime politician.  And, there’s the significant matter of campaign cash, reluctant endorsements, and the very popular Andrew Cuomo to consider.

In these volatile political times, it is probably not wise to put too much stock in electoral history.  But, Mario Cuomo enjoyed 71% and 64% approval ratings from New Yorkers when he launched his successful re-election bids in 1986 and 1990, respectively.  George Pataki’s ratings were a comparable 59% and 72% when he began his two successful re-election campaigns.

Governor Paterson is in an unenviable position as he seeks a four-year term.  We will be watching the electorate closely in the next few weeks to see if the New Yorkers are responding favorably to his effort.