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Governor Snyder's push for a new message for the New Year

Snyder Administration

Governor Rick Snyder held a year-end roundtable with reporters today.  That’s on top of the public bill-signings and one-on-one interviews and meet-ups he’s held with various reporters and editorial boards in the past few weeks. These meetings are a December staple of the Lansing political-journalism culture. But, today’s additional roundtable with reporters raises the question: after hours and hours already spent being interviewed, why is the Governor holding yet another meeting with the press?

A likely answer: The governor wants to reset the conversation, at least a little, and shift some attention from controversies like Michigan’s new right-to-work law and his veto of concealed weapons legislation to some good news stories – or, at least, what he calls good news stories.

Political scientists often talk about how the Executive Branch – whether it be a Governor or President – has a particular power in messaging. It’s the idea that they have a bully pulpit of sorts with State of the State or State of the Union addresses… think back even to FDR and his fire-side chats. It can be argued that the Executive in charge has a unique ability to be able to talk to his – OR her – constituents pretty much whenever he  - OR she - wants.

Governor Snyder seems to be discovering the limits of his ability to steer “the conversation” and he seems to be trying to push back. He wants to get people talking more about the positive things and less about the controversies. But the fact is that people (including us) tend to get fascinated by controversy; by political gaming. It’s tough in an environment like this to execute a pivot to a (relentless) positive message.

In fact, just this week a poll from Public Policy Polling showed that since right-to-work passed, Governor Snyder’s approval rating dropped by a dramatic 28 points. According to their polling, PPP says there are only two other Governors in the nation who have a worse net approval rating than Snyder. Now, PPP is a firm that does polling for Democrats and progressives. But, despite that fact, the firm is pretty darn accurate in their work. The revered political blog Five Thirty Eight showed that PPP was more accurate in the 2012 election than some other respected polling outlets including Gallup, Rasmussen, and NPR. In fact, PPP data ended up skewing not towards Democrats in 2012, but Republicans.

Of course, here atIt’s Just Politics, we’re wary of polling so far out before elections. We are afterall still 23 months away from November 2014 (when Governor Snyder, if he decides to run again, will be up for reelection). We are incredibly cognizant of the fact that polls this far out can’t really be measured against any real results. We can’t say for sure this an accurate representation of public opinion. However, even if this is just a simple snot shot of where Michigan is right now, it’s clear that one thing is pretty certain: a majority of Michiganders appear to be unhappy with Governor Snyder; which comes back to the need for Snyder to rework his messaging for the New Year.

Though, this won't be a simple task. He still has plenty of controversies that are likely to make headlines well into the New Year, including “recall-proofing.” After passing some pretty controversial legislation in the lame duck session, Republicans protected their most controversial work from referendums; tucking in a little money to make them appropriations that can’t be challenged by voters with a referendum. Governor signed that legislation this week.

In addition, lawmakers went ahead and protected themselves from recalls. Recalls are something that labor has threatened as retribution for the new right-to-work law. Republicans in the Legislature did that by tightening the time period for collecting signatures, and creating this illusory standard that the reason for the recall be “factual and of sufficient clarity”… to be determined by the Board of State Canvassers: Two Democrats, two Republicans. Bipartisan consensus required to do anything. Welcome to Deadlock City. This virtually eliminates the possibility of a recall making it to the ballot.  

And, while recalls are rarely successful in Michigan – they still have been used against both Republicans and Democrats. If you’re a Michigan elected official, this new standard is a positive development.

Merry Christmas, Lawmakers!


And, just in case you just can't get enough politics (like the two of us) take a listen to yesterday's "Stateside with Cynthia Canty" as we go through the year's Top 10 political stories of 2012. Wishing you Happy - and safe - Holidays! - Zoe & Rick.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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