D.G. MARTIN: What Can Perdue Do About Her Plummeting Poll Numbers?
What can she do about it?
Gov. Bev Perdue keeps slipping in the polls.
A recent poll by the conservative-leaning Civitas organization showed that just 29 percent approve of Perdue's performance and 63 percent disapprove.
Public Policy Polling, a group linked to Democrats, reported her approval at 24 percent, with 54 percent disapproving.
A Charlotte area poll conducted by Elon and Johnson C. Smith Universities showed 48 percent disapproval and 35 percent approval.
Why so low, when, arguably Perdue has guided North Carolina through tough times as well or better than governors of other states? Many folks who try to answer that question do not seem to be certain about their answer.
(An exception, perhaps, came out in an unscientific poll by The Beaufort Observer with members of the local Greybeards Coffee Club. They gave a unanimous response to the question: "Why are Perdue's numbers so low and getting lower?" The answer: "Taxes!")
Inside "experts" are not so sure that it is simply a matter of the increased taxes in the emergency budget the legislature and the governor crafted in response to the dramatically reduced revenues that resulted from the financial crisis.
The lack of certainty about the cause of the governor's poor poll performance makes it difficult to come up with good advice about what to do about it.
One popular theory among insiders in Raleigh says that Perdue has been tarnished by the reports of corruption in state government and a spillover of the unending news stories about investigations into the activities of the prior administration. The insiders recommended that the governor propound new ethics rules, open government records, respond to press inquiries, and replace personnel touched by any hint of scandal.
Perdue followed this advice. But as yet, her actions have not had a discernable positive impact on her poll numbers.
Another theory held by some political experts is that bad times mean bad polls for everyone in high political office. When the economy is bad and people are losing jobs or worried about losing them, when private businesses are losing their customers, and people are losing their homes, poll numbers are going to be low. People will not register approval of those who are in charge during bad times.
These "experts" advise not to worry about what you cannot control. Just do the best job you can. Hope that times will get better before the next election, and don't get distracted by the bad poll numbers.
Maybe this is good analysis and good advice. But there is a problem. While Perdue's approval numbers hover between 24 and 35 percent, President Obama's North Carolina approval numbers, as shown in a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, stand at 45 percent.
If poll respondents simply blame those in charge for continued bad economic times, why does Obama, who is more responsible for the economy than Perdue, keep a higher approval rating?
There probably are lots of reasons. But one of them is that Obama is doing a better job at conveying the message, "We did not cause the bad times, but I understand how they are hurting you, and we are going to do everything we can to help you cope with these problems."
It takes real -- and symbolic -- action to be persuasive.
A few years ago, when a drought threatened the crops in the western Piedmont, one savvy politician called a rally to pray for rain. The rains did not come in time. But the politician showed she cared, and she won the next election.
Maybe not prayer rallies for her, but Perdue's numbers will be better when she demonstrates convincingly that she is fighting every minute to help every North Carolinian get through the terrible disruption caused by the financial crisis.
D.G. Martin is hosting his final season of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This Sunday's (Oct. 18) guest is North Carolina State writing professor John Kessel, author of "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence," a collection of short stories featuring styles of imaginative and science fiction.
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