A new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows Ohio Gov. John Kasich with an approval rating greater than 50 percent for the first time in his term, and the Republican holds early leads over four potential Democratic opponents.
Fifty-three percent of Buckeye State voters approve of the way Kasich is handling his job as governor, the poll shows. Only 32 percent disapprove. In the previous poll, conducted in early December, 42 percent approved of Kasich, and 35 percent disapproved.
Kasich's poll numbers in the past revealed a high degree of polarization, but the latest poll shows he has made significant inroads among Democrats and independents. A quarter of Democrats now say they approve of his job performance, and his approval rating among independents is 56 percent.
The poll caps a significant turnaround for the first-term governor, who spent his first year-and-a-half in Columbus with an upside-down approval rating. After pursuing legislation that overhauled Ohio's collective-bargaining laws shortly after taking office, Kasich's poll numbers took a nosedive; a poll in March 2011, just two months into his term, showed his approval rating at 30 percent, compared to 46 percent who disapproved. The percentage of voters who disapproved of Kasich crested over 50 percent late in 2011, when voters repealed the new law restricting collective bargaining.
"What a difference a few months make," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Not that long ago, Democrats were licking their lips at the prospect of taking on an unpopular governor who had a disapproval rating in the 50s. Now his job disapproval rating is just 32 percent and his chances of re-election appear to be much better than they were thought to be as recently as December."
Kasich's resurgence stakes him to early leads over four Democrats, according to the poll. He leads Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, 45 percent to 35 percent; former state Attorney General Richard Cordray, 44 percent to 38 percent; Rep. Tim Ryan, 44 percent to 36 percent; and former Rep. Betty Sutton, 45 percent to 38 percent.
"The good news for the Democrats is that Kasich does not get 50 percent of the votes against any of the four potential candidates," said Brown. "But he does have consistently good numbers on a number of measurements that indicate strength in the electorate."
FitzGerald has taken steps toward a run, but he says a decision on the race is not likely before mid-March. Cordray is considered a possible candidate if the Senate scuttles his nomination to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Cordray took the job as a recess appointee, though the courts have cast doubt on the legality of that appointment. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that Ryan is still considering the race, and Sutton said last month that she is "definitely looking into" running.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted Feb. 21-26, surveying 1,011 registered voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points.