In December, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner told voters "I ain't going to be Mr. Popularity for a little while."
That may be the first promise that he keeps.
A new poll of 908 Illinois voters taken by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry on February 11, after Rauner's first 30 days in office, shows the governor's approval rating at 43 percent.
The survey, commissioned by The Illinois Observer for its subscription e-newsletter, The Insider, reports that 29.7 percent of voters "strongly approve" and 13.4 percent "approve" of Rauner's handling of his job so far. Meanwhile, 28.2 percent of voters disapprove, with 16.2 percent "strongly" disapproving.
"Bruce Rauner has had a very busy and aggressive first 30 days in office," Ogden & Frey's Tom Swiss wrote in the polling memo. "Tensions are running high in Springfield as he has started revealing some of his yet undisclosed positions. While the politicians don't seem to like the change in status quo, 43% of voters either approve or strongly approve of his performance as Governor."
The survey, which had a +/- 3.32 percent margin of error, tested a random sampling of voters who voted in at least one of the last three elections. In a poll leading up to the November 2014 election, Ogden & Fry correctly predicted Rauner's five point win.
Given the low esteem in which the legislature and Congress are held, a 43 percent job approval is not bad.
Tensions may be running high outside of Springfield, too.
Rauner's 43% approval rating is down 9 points and disapproval up five points since a We Ask America January 14th poll that put Rauner's approval at 52 percent and his disapproval 23 percent.
He pursued a confrontational approach rejected by voters.
A We Ask America January 15th poll of 1,026 registered voters, commissioned by Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, asked the following question:
"Do you think Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner should try to solve the state's problems by working to find common ground with the Democratic-controlled legislature, or should he take a more confrontational approach with the Democrats in trying to solve this state's many problems?"
A whopping 67 percent urged Rauner to "find common ground," while just 22 percent backed confrontation.
The common ground approached was embraced across the ideological spectrum: 84% of Democrats; 63 percent of independents; and even 49 percent of Republicans said find common ground.
Instead, Rauner went confrontational.
In the days leading up to his state of the state speech, the governor rolled out his war against organized labor, core Democratic allies, in a series of speeches across the state, essentially laying the financial woes of Illinois and a culture of "corruption" at the unions' doorstep. He repeated those themes at his February 4 address before the joint gathering of lawmakers.
Even lead balloons have fallen to the ground slower.
Then on Monday the governor lowered the boom on AFSCME issuing an executive order freezing union dues of some 6,000 state employees who wish to opt out of the union. He also announced a federal lawsuit to scuttle the constitutionality of the "fair share" union fee arrangement. He charged that the unions were a "critical cog in the corrupt bargain" in Springfield. The moves grabbed national attention and not so favorable comparisons with Wisconsin's union-busting governor, Scott Walker.
The new Ogden & Fry survey could also be interpreted as a validation of House Speaker Michael Madigan's strategy of avoiding confrontation with Rauner, allowing the merits or demerits of the governor's actions to be judged by voters, not Democratic opposition.
Moreover, the poll may also confirm the angst that some GOP lawmakers are feeling about the governor's full-throated attack on the unions, fearing that slippage of Rauner's approval rating could hit their own numbers, particularly those labor-friendly Republican legislators who may be forced to vote for anti-labor initiatives.
All this before even the Fiscal Year 2016 budget pain is rolled out this week.
David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.