Ohioans rate Taft harshly, but half don’t want him out

The Columbus Dispatch – September 12, 2005

Central Ohioans pretty much agree that Bob Taft is a rotten governor, but they are sharply divided over whether he should resign.

Taft’s approval rating is 26 percent in a new poll for The Dispatch by Saperstein Associates of Columbus. Even among his fellow Republicans he wins the favor of just 31 percent.

However, it’s a virtual dead heat on the question of whether Taft should step down because of his four criminal ethics convictions for failure to tell the public about dozens of gifts and favors. In the poll — which has a 5 percent margin of sampling error — 47 percent say Taft should quit, 46 percent say he shouldn’t.

Poll respondent John Reynolds, of the West Side, said the end of Taft’s term can’t come soon enough.

“I’m a Republican — not a hard-liner. I don’t think he’s been a good governor, and I think he’s let down the Republican Party,” said the 59-year-old small-business owner. “I don’t think he’s done a good job.”

But Reynolds doesn’t think Taft should resign over undisclosed golf outings or what he did or did not know about hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable investments at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Survey participant Dionne Dillard, of Columbus, thinks otherwise. She said Taft should either resign or be impeached because of the multiple ethics violations that made him the first sitting Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime.

The 22-year-old security guard concedes Taft has done some good things in office, such as pushing for new schools. But she doesn’t agree with those who downplay Taft’s convictions as a minor matter, saying “he knows the rules.”

“I don’t feel he should get any special treatment because of who he is,” Dillard said.

Only 38 percent agreed with Dillard that Taft should be impeached; 56 percent opposed such a move by the legislature.

No directly comparable data exist to put the findings from the new poll of central Ohioans into context.

However, in a September 2000 Dispatch Poll, Taft’s statewide approval rating was 70 percent. In August 2001, a Buckeye State Poll for The Dispatch mirrored that finding, with 71 percent giving a thumbs up to Taft, including 64 percent of Democrats.

Fifteen months later, Taft won a second term with 58 percent of the vote, 20 percent more than his Democratic opponent.

But by last October, Taft’s statewide approval rating had dipped to 39 percent in a Dispatch poll.

The relatively dim view of Taft by GOP respondents shows the recent scandals “transcend party politics,” said Martin D. Saperstein, president of the company that conducted the poll.

“So I think they’re saying in central Ohio it’s hard to support a governor who supports or allows those things to happen,” Saperstein said. “For many people, being convicted is worthy of a loss of approval,” if not loss of public office.

The telephone survey of 400 adults with Columbus phone exchanges was conducted Aug. 30 through Sept. 3. The results were weighted slightly to reflect central Ohio demographics. The response rate of those contacted was about 31 percent.

Respondents were split in trying to sort out the gravity of Taft’s woes along with the Workers’ Compensation scandals.

When asked whether such problems are no worse than what usually goes on in state government, each possible answer, ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” got support from more than 20 percent.

Majorities did coalesce around the belief that the problems are due primarily to “a few bad apples” rather than systematic corruption in state government, and that the difficulties are not mainly a result of one-party rule by Ohio Republicans.

Bill Lauber, 73, a retired Ohio Bell telephone-cable slicer, said Taft’s criminal convictions are being overblown because other officeholders have done as much or worse.

“I think we’d have to put him along with most of the politicians and say what he did wasn’t that bad and it’s worth a slap on the wrist,” the Gahanna resident said. “All of them have done something minor like that.”

Photographer Kevin Dye, 52, of Columbus, said, “I’m not in favor of ousting him for golf outings, but the whole way the government of Ohio has handled this is just insanity.

“I think it’s disgusting. It’s horrible. Eventually, the state is going to have to replace that money. I don’t think you could say, ‘I didn’t know. Nobody told me.’ Somebody must have known.”

Retired nurse Dolores Wise, 87, of Columbus, called Taft “a very good man” and added, “I don’t think he has failed as governor, but he had made mistakes.”

She said Taft should not resign because of his ethics violations.

But Wise expressed concern that the recent revelations of corruption in state government are only the tip of the iceberg.