Yesterday, Ohio’s media reported that the latest Quinnipiac poll, albeit mixed, contained “good news” for Governor Kasich.  But it really wasn’t the media’s fault.  It was really the fault of Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, who put out statements like this to the press:

“Things are looking better for Gov. John Kasich,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.  “But it is not all blue skies as Gov. Kasich enters the last half of his term.  His job approval rating is positive for the first time among registered voters, although he started getting positive scores in Quinnipiac University surveys of likely voters during the presidential race.”

First of all, that’s technically not true.  Quinnipiac’s first poll of Kasich’s job approval rating was in its poll released on January 19, 2011 (taken very shortly after he took office.)  It had Kasich’s job approval rating at 30% approval to 22% disapproval.  So this isn’t the first time Quinnipiac has Kasich’s job approval rating in positive terrority, it’s just the first time it’s been positive since SB 5.

Second, so what?  It’s still only at 42%, which is lousy for an incumbent.  It’s not unusual for an incumbent to be under 50% in early polling and still win the election,  but as Nate Silver pointed out, that obviously has occurred less and less the further below 50% you go.  In fact, only a third of the incumbents who polled under 45% in early polling (head-to-head, not job approval) actually won, according to Silver.  So Kasich, two years out from the election, is polling in the range where most incumbents wind up getting voted out of office.  And that, the media says, was the “good” news for Kasich.

John Kasich popularity isn’t improving, just his disapproval has dropped into the land of “meh.”  Quinnipiac has had Kasich’s job approval among registered voters bouncing between 40% to 42%  all year.  It’s just during that time, his disapproval has gone from 46% to 35%.  In other words, the anger with Kasich over SB 5 has dissipated, but his popularity seems to be hitting a ceiling at 42% with Quinnipiac.

To put Kasich’s number in perspective, we could look to what Quinnipiac showed at the virtually exact same point in Ted Strickland’s term in December 2008.  Strickland’s approval rating then was 54% to 25%.  That’s +10 on approval to -10 on disapproval to where Kasich is now.  In fact, yesterday’s Quinnipiac Poll also showed that Ohioans hold a more favorable view of Strickland right now than Kasich, too.  Strickland had a 35%/37% approval/disapproval rating among Republicans.  Kasich has a 21%/57% disapproval among Democrats.  In other words, at this point in his first term Democrats are more united in their disapproval over Kasich than Republicans were over Strickland.  Kasich has only a +5 point advantage on his job approval among independents; Strickland had a +28 advantage.  In fact, if you looked at virtually all of that polling data in 2008, you could be convinced that Strickland looked like a lock for re-election, even though he wound up losing.

Perhaps even more important than an incumbent’s approval rating is their “re-elect” numbers.  These are widely viewed as a more accurate predictor of an incumbent’s general election vote share than their approval rating.  And that, not surprising, is the one area in the 2008 poll that indicated that Strickland might be in trouble.   When asked whether Strickland deserved to be re-elected in 2010, Ohio voters said only by a 45% to 34% margin that he did.  In 2010, Strickland got 47% of the vote.

It’s important to keep in mind that polls can change over time.  For example, Quinnipiac showed Obama with only 45% of Ohioans saying he deserved a second term, versus 51% who did not, at the beginning of this year.  He turned that around to win 51% of the popular vote in Ohio.   A BIG shift in the polls appears to be Kasich’s only hope.  And it doesn’t look that likely.

There really no glossing over the fact that only 36% of Ohio’s registered voters believe John Kasich deserves to be re-elected. 43% do not.  That’s worse than Obama’s numbers at the beginning of the year.  And unlike Obama who had 85% of Democrats believing he deserve to be re-elected, Kasich has only 67% of Republicans feeling that way.  In fact, Republican voters are split 41%/45% on whether another Republican should run against Kasich for the Republican nomination!  Basically, this shows an Ohio Republican electorate who lukewarmly supports Kasich but is not yet  sold on whether he should be their guy in 2014.

The problem for Kasich is that by a five point margin, more Ohioans don’t like his policies.  In fact, only 69% of Republicans do.  And dislike of Kasich’s policies outweighs support across a broad segment of demographics: Democrats (of course), independents, men (-3), women (-5), African-Americans ( -43), college educated (-4), non-college educated (-5),  household incomes below 100k, and voters under 65.   This despite the fact that 42% of Ohioans acknowledge that the economy is getting better in Ohio and only 19% believe they’re getting worse.

The reason for the apparently disconnect?  31% of Ohioans believe President Obama deserves “a lot” of the credit for the improvement, but only 23% believe that John Kasich deserves “a lot” of credit.  Voters are willing to give Kasich some credit, but not much for the improved economy.   To the extent Kasich can find support in the electorate, it’s shallow.  And whatever “bounce” Kasich expected to get by taking credit for an improving economy… he’s already getting.  And it results in only 36% of Ohioans believing he deserves re-election.

But here’s the most important takeaway from yesterday’s Quinnipiac Poll: in that same 2008 poll with Strickland’s numbers we’ve discussed, George Voinovich’s re-elect numbers were 44% deserves re-election/34% does not, but he polled 36% to 35% against an unnamed generic Democratic opponent.  The next month, George Voinovich announced he would not seek re-election and would retire from the U.S. Senate.  John Kasich’s poll numbers yesterday are worse than Voinovich’s numbers.  Voinovich didn’t believe he could get his numbers to rebound in two years.  Can Kasich seriously believe he can, when it’s taken him two years just to get his job approval rating back into positive terrority at a subpar 42%?

That’s the story of the 2014 gubernatorial election right now.