Gov. Matt Bevin speaking to reporters | Photo by Joe Sonka

A quarterly tracking survey from the polling firm Morning Consult shows that Gov. Matt Bevin’s approval rating has recently taken a dive in Kentucky, as his once solidified Republican base is now evenly split on his performance as governor.

The survey of 6,638 registered voters in Kentucky, from April 1 through June 30, found that only 29.4 percent approved of Bevin’s performance, while 56.5 percent disapproved — making his approval rating the fourth lowest among governors in the country, according to the firm’s second-quarter polling in all 50 states.

The new poll was released on Wednesday, the same day that Bevin once again declined to tell reporters whether or not he would run for re-election in 2019, instead saying that he would make a decision by January, which is the filing deadline for candidates to run for office next year.

These second-quarter ratings for the governor are a significant drop from the firm’s polling in the first three months of this year, when Bevin’s approval rating was 41 percent and disapproval rating was 43 percent. While respondents’ opinion of Bevin has been relatively split in Morning Consult’s quarterly polling over the last two years, he started with a net +11 percent approval rating in the firm’s inaugural quarterly poll in early 2017.

While the steep fall in Bevin’s approval rating in the second quarter was partially due to a net -17 percent drop from those who identify as Democrats and independents, his largest hit was from his own Republican base.

While 62 percent of Republicans approved of Bevin and only 25 percent disapproved of him in Morning Consult’s first-quarter poll, the latest poll shows that less than a minority of his own party now approves of his performance. The 45.9 percent of Republicans surveyed who gave the governor positive marks only slightly surpassed the 42.5 percent who now disapprove.

Quarterly polling of Matt Bevin’s performance among registered Kentucky voters, from the polling firm Morning Consult

The time period in which the latest poll was taken was an often a tumultuous one for Bevin, which included the end of the legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Teachers and public employees filled the capitol building in protest of a public pension bill supported by Bevin, while members of his own party chastised him for his over-the-top rhetoric criticizing such teachers, who he compared to thugs and blamed for the sexual assault of children while most schools were closed due to one weekday protest in Frankfort.

Bevin has also faced some criticism over his proposal to reform the state’s Medicaid system by adding in work requirements, though this poll was completed before his administration briefly revoked the dental and vision benefits of nearly 400,000 Kentuckians after a federal judge blocked the implementation of this program.

While Bevin’s low approval ratings in the Morning Consult poll are nearly identical to one conducted by Western Kentucky University in April, a grain of salt may be needed on standby, as political polling firms in general have struggled to accurately survey Kentuckians in recent years — particularly their failure to anticipate Bevin’s own surprise blowout victory over Democrat Jack Conway in the 2015 gubernatorial race.

Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Tres Watson did not reply to an email asking for a response to the new poll and if those in party leadership are concerned that they will be caught off guard by a possible late announcement by Bevin that he will not run for re-election. To date, no prominent Republicans have publicly expressed an interest in running for the seat in 2019.

Attorney General Andy Beshear is the only Democrat to have officially announced a run for governor next year, though Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, state House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, former state Auditor Adam Edelen and state Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville have all said that they are at least considering running for the office.

Morning Consult also conducted second-quarter polling of all 100 U.S. senators, finding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s approval rating is not much better than Bevin’s, as only 30 percent approved of his performance and 56 percent disapproved. McConnell’s ratings in his home state were the lowest among any senator in the Morning Consult poll, just as his were the lowest in the firm’s first quarter poll.

Political observers have speculated that Bevin may attempt to challenge McConnell for his seat in 2020, setting up a rematch of their contentious primary battle in 2014.

Sen. Rand Paul fared better than Bevin and McConnell in the new poll, but the 42 percent who disapproved of Kentucky’s junior senator surpassed the 40 percent who approved of his performance, flipping his net +8 percent positive rating from the first quarter. Paul is not up for re-election until 2022.

However, Morning Consult did find that President Donald Trump remains popular in Kentucky — which the firm has shown consistently in their monthly tracking polls this year — with 55 percent approving of the president’s performance and only 41 percent disapproving.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]