Brownback’s popularity is low, but he would still beat Democrats

A new poll Tuesday shows Gov. Sam Brownback struggling with his popularity one year before he might seek re-election in Kansas.

Public Policy Polling released a survey showing the Republican with an approval rating of 37 percent as he begins his third year as governor. Fifty-two percent disapproved of the job Brownback is doing.

“Sam Brownback’s really unpopular,” said Dean Debnam, president of the Raleigh, N.C.-based polling group.

The poll surveyed 1,229 registered Kansas voters from Feb. 21 to 24. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

But matched in hypothetical head-to-head contests in a gubernatorial race, Brownback still appears to have an edge over some of the state’s best-known Democrats. The poll pitted him against Mayor Carl Brewer of Wichita, former governors Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson, outgoing Unified Government mayor Joe Reardon, Kansas Sen. Tom Holland and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, who conducted an investigation into open meetings violations last year at the governor’s mansion.

Brownback polled better than any of them, with only Brewer coming within four points of him.The latest poll echoes others last year by SurveyUSA, which showed the governor with a similar rating.

A poll by SurveyUSA last July showed Brownback with an approval rating of 36 percent, which at that time was even lower than what President Barack Obama was polling in Kansas.

But Brownback’s allies have been critical of the SurveyUSA polls, saying they undersampled Republicans and tea party backers.

They took comfort in another poll done last year by Neil Newhouse’s firm, Public Opinion Strategies, showing Brownback with a 51 percent job approval rating. Only 43 percent in that poll disapproved of how Brownback was doing as governor.

Newhouse did public opinion research for presidential candidate Mitt Romney that showed him winning key states that he ultimately lost.

Brownback’s top political strategist is still comfortable with where the governor is positioned politically despite the new poll.

“That doesn’t match up with the internal data we’re seeing or with media exit polls or with actual election results,” David Kensinger said.

Brownback is now in the middle of a legislative session that is getting tougher with each passing day, including Tuesday when a Senate committee scrapped a key component of his plan to improve fourth-grade reading skills.

The governor is proposing even deeper income tax cuts and paying for that by keeping part of a controversial sales tax increase and eliminating the home mortgage deduction. That approach has run into opposition.

Kansas House members are increasingly reluctant to keep a penny sales tax that they opposed and used to beat their opponents to get elected in 2010.

The governor, meanwhile, is still trying to dig out of a looming $700 million revenue hole that was created by income tax cuts enacted last year.

Brownback also is struggling to pass a constitutional amendment that would give him the ability to appoint appellate judges with Senate confirmation.

The Senate passed the amendment early in this year’s session, but the proposal has been languishing in the House for weeks with no sign of action in the near future.