Governor’s Race Do-Over: Would You Vote The Same Way?

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Given the furor stirred up by Gov. John Kasich over Senate Bill 5, state budget cuts and goofy remarks about a “jerk” police officer, are Franklin County residents feeling any buyers’ remorse?

While do-overs are not allowed in gubernatorial elections, The Dispatch asked Columbus firm Saperstein Associates to poll Franklin County residents for an idea of how they would vote if Kasich and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, faced off again now.

And the winner?

Strickland by 14 percentage points, 49 percent to 35 percent. That compares with a 9 percent Strickland margin in the county in the actual 2010 election.

Bad news for Kasich, right?

Maybe, although Strickland took Franklin County by only 5 fewer points last November when Kasich won statewide by 2 points. And polls of all adults, as opposed to registered or likely voters, generally tend to lean Democratic. Plus, Strickland didn’t have to take the heat for fixing an $8 billion hole in the state budget, as he surely would have had he won a second term.

So that’s good news for Kasich then?

Maybe, although the poll shows that independent voters favor Strickland by 3 to 1 — 51 percent to 17 percent. Independents typically are key to a statewide victory in such a politically balanced state. Plus, the Franklin County polling sample had only 7 percent more Democrats than Republicans, meaning Strickland doubled that margin.

OK, so what the heck does it all mean, anyhow?

“The bottom line is more bad news for Kasich than good news,” said Martin D. Saperstein, head of Saperstein Associates.

“But one would argue that this wouldn’t be a surprise to him. That the reaction to some of his policies has been negative, but that he believes it is the right thing to do and that voters will come around.”

The poll is hardly an argument for a return to a Strickland administration, Saperstein said.

“At the end of the day, the Democrat still doesn’t get a majority,” he said. “It’s not a ringing endorsement. It would be much more damning if Strickland were getting like 57 percent or 55 percent.”

Kasich’s strengths and weaknesses are evident in the comments of those who took the poll.

The GOP governor rubs Sandra Stuttle, 65, the wrong way and is the main reason she would again vote for Strickland.

“He’s got a cocky attitude,” Stuttle, a Grove City resident, said about Kasich. “Some of the opening comments that he made when he first took office just didn’t sit well.”

Retired New Albany resident Dennis Sears, 72, said Kasich has a lot to learn as governor.

“He’s very abrupt and speaks before he sometimes thinks,” Sears said. “It’s arrogance and ignorance with what has taken place with the workers who join unions.”

But another retiree, Donald Sisk, 88, would vote for Kasich again.

“He’s willing to make some choices that make him not popular, but they are good in the long run to balance the budget for the state,” said the Reynoldsburg resident. “I know it hurts, but I like what he’s done so far.”

The survey shows that only 1 percent of Columbus-area resident call themselves members of the tea party, while 17 percent say they are supporters but not members.

Saperstein said while that 18 percent may not be as high as some estimate, it’s enough to carry significant influence.

“They are being billed as terrorists and as obstructionists and as caring not about the country,” he said. “But then you think, geez, almost 1 in 5 people support them. That’s not a fringe group.”

Hilliard resident Carl Price, 62, said he generally supports the tea party movement but is not a member.

“I like many of the states-rights issues,” he said. “There are a number of issues I don’t agree with. I believe there is the need for some safeguards and safety nets.”

Phyllis Thomas, 73, a retired employee of the Ohio Department of Health, said the tea party makes her “chuckle.”

“Some of these things, and I think they’re being very radical, and again they’re appealing to a lot of these young, frustrated kids, but anybody with any sense knows that you can’t just fire everybody in Congress and start all over,” she said.

Central Ohioans are evenly divided at 47 percent on whether the U.S. Constitution allows gay marriage.

Larry Miller, 49, said he is “up in the air” on the topic, but in the end thinks it is wrong to take away a right from groups of people.

“I don’t think that I have the right to tell somebody — just because I might not feel exactly like they do — that they’re wrong,” said the school night janitor from the South Side.

Donald Sisk identifies himself as a Republican and a Christian, which he said is why he doesn’t believe gay marriage should be legal.

“I don’t think it’s a natural thing … it’s an abnormality,” he said. “That’s just how I was raised.”

Dispatch reporter Ben Geier contributed to this story.

This story was produced through the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.