Two polls find Paterson weakening, Gillibrand popular… among Republicans

Two new polls, released by Siena and by Quinnipiac, confirm the hardening conventional wisdom that all involved parties have emerged politically weakened from the chaotic process of New York’s Senate appointment.

First, David Paterson has opened himself up to so much criticism that it is conceivable he could face a primary challenge and that he has endangered his general election prospects; second, Caroline Kennedy went from icon to a source of ridicule; and third, Kristen Gillibrand is all but certain to face a competitive primary.

Republicans approve of Gillibrand; Democrats… not so much

Quinnipiac asked respondents about their new Junior Senator and found that… few people have any idea who Gillibrand is. 63% say they do not know enough about her to form an opinion; among those who do, 25% have a favorable opinion and 10% have a negative one. This is significant to the extent in the sense that it gives Gillibrand’s critics an opening to define her negatively.

Quinnipiac also asked respondents whether they approved of Gillibrand’s appointment, and far more people had an opinion about that question: 46% said they approved, while 30% said they did not. These numbers might look good for Gillibrand, but the internals are worrisome for her hopes of surviving a Democratic primary: Republicans approve of her selection 56% to 27%, while Democrats approve of it 41% to 35%!

That’s right, a Democratic Governor managed to select a Democratic Senator whose selection is approved far more by Republicans than by Democrats. Do we need to look any further to decide whether Gillibrand is actually vulnerable in a primary?

Quinnipiac also finds that the issue of gun control could prove toxic for Gillibrand in a state like New York. 36% of respondents say that her pro-gun record and ties to the NRA make them less likely to vote for Gillibrand; only 17% say it makes them more likely. Those numbers are even more dramatic among Democrats: 50% say they are less likely to vote for Gillibrand because of her record on guns!

Paterson (and Cuomo)

Perhaps the most startling result in Siena’s poll is the drop of Paterson’s support, both in the Democratic primary and in the general election:

  • Asked to choose between Paterson and Andrew Cuomo, 35% of Democratic respondents choose the Governor and 33% the Attorney General. In December, Paterson led by 23%; in November, by 28%.
  • In a general election, Paterson only prevailed 44% to 42% against Rudy Giuliani; last month, Paterson by 13%.
  • Cuomo performs better against Giuliani, 48% to 39%; he also led by 13% last month.

It is impossible to know whether Cuomo will take the huge risk that a gubernatorial run would represent; it is also impossible to predict New York’s economic situation in two years, and Paterson’s approval rating (and thus his vulnerability) will greatly depend on that. But a door has undeniably opened for the ambitious Attorney General - and that could be enough for him to be tempted to give it a try.

The Quinnipiac poll confirms that the drop in Paterson’s popularity is related to the Senate appointment: only 42% of Democrats approve of Paterson’s handling of the process, while 43 % disapprove. Among Democrats, Paterson’s approval rating fell from 62-18 to 54-28.

These numbers are also interesting in that they suggest Rudy Giuliani is not as damaged as last week’s Research 2000 poll suggested. There, Giuliani’s favorability rating was only 38%; here, Giuliani’s favorability is at 59%.

Kennedy takes the blame

There has been an intense back-and-forth between Kennedy and Paterson’s camps ever since the Wednesday night drama unfolded. Many pundits have decided they should put the blame on Paterson, but Quinnipiac suggests that New Yorkers have chosen another camp: 49% blame Kennedy for the controversy that surrounded her candidacy, while only 15% blame Paterson.

Who would have thought such numbers possible in early December, when Kennedy’s name first surfaced and polls showed her widely popular among New Yorkers?

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