Poll: RFRA fallout does damage to Pence's approval rating

April 16, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence is underwater and vulnerable to a challenge in 2016, according to a poll released Thursday morning by Howey Politics Indiana.

The fallout over a religious freedom measure perceived as discriminatory against gays and lesbians has left more Hoosiers disapproving of the job the Indiana governor is doing than approving of it, according to the poll.

And more Hoosiers view him unfavorably than positively as well.

The poll by Howey Politics Indiana also highlights a huge vulnerability for the Republican governor: A majority of Indiana voters now say they favor adding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Hoosiers into the state's anti-discrimination laws, which Pence has opposed.

The upshot: Once a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Pence's re-election as governor is now no sure thing.

The Howey Politics poll finds that just 45 percent of voters approve of the job Pence is doing in leading the state while 46 percent disapprove. Polls in the past year had Pence with an approval rating of more than 60 percent.

Howey Politics pointed out that former Gov. Mitch Daniels' approval rating fell below 40 percent in 2006 after he signed the Indiana Toll Road lease and Daylight Saving Time bills, but he whipped Democrat Jill Long for re-election in 2008 in a landslide, 58 percent to 40 percent.

In addition, the poll finds Pence’s favorable rating – which measures voters’ impression of Pence, rather than only how he’s handling his job – stands at just 35 percent, while 38 percent view him as unfavorable.

The survey of 607 registered voters was conducted by Christine Matthews of Bellwether Research and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted April 12-14, not long after Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

Pence argued the law would ensure that government didn’t infringe on individual religious liberties, but critics said it opened the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians. The protest against the law grew so loud that a number of national organizations, local governments and businesses said they would cancel events or trips to Indiana unless the law changed.

Days later, the General Assembly approved a “fix” meant to ensure the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But by then, critics were calling for Indiana to add sexual orientation to its Civil Rights Act, something Pence opposes.

The poll shows a majority of Hoosiers disagreed with him. It found 54 percent of respondents think Indiana should add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination law, while 34 percent are opposed and 12 percent didn’t know.

And 59 percent of respondents said the religious freedom law that caused the uproar was not needed.

Still, the poll finds that Pence would come out on top in head-to-head matchups with several Democrats, although all within the poll’s margin of error. He beats state Superintendent Glenda Ritz by 3 percentage points, last election’s Democratic nominee John Gregg by 6 percentage points and former congressman Baron Hill by 7.

But in every case, Pence never reaches more than 50 percent and the undecided vote is in double digits.


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