Last spring, when we wondered how Mainers thought newly elected Gov. Paul LePage was doing, opinion polls gave us the answer: not so good.

Nearly 55 percent of those responding to a poll commissioned by MaineToday Media said the governor was doing a poor job; 56 percent had an “unfavorable” view of LePage.

Another survey, conducted by the Portland market research firm Critical Insights, gave LePage a job approval rating of just 31 percent – and a disapproval rating of 54 percent.

More than half his constituents, these polls suggested, thought the governor was doing a bad job.

That was then. This is now.

A new poll by Critical Insights shows LePage with a job approval rating of 47 percent – and a much improved disapproval mark of 40 percent.

So what has changed? Is the governor doing a much better job now that he was six months ago? Probably.

But, looking back, it might be fair to say that the negative reaction he was getting from constituents in the spring was as much about the image he was projecting as the job he was doing.

HEADING BACKWARDS

The MaineToday poll released in May indicated that nearly 40 percent of those surveyed believed the state was heading in the wrong direction – “backwards” – under LePage’s leadership. Even more telling, though, was the opinion of almost 70 percent that the governor was generating nationwide media attention that was bad for the state.

From our standpoint, the greatest concern in the early days of the LePage administration was not his political and policy agenda. In fact, we supported many of his budget and regulatory proposals, including some that generated considerable opposition and controversy.

What worried us more than any policy dispute was the perception that LePage was embarrassing Maine with ill-advised comments; fits of temper; impulsive, pointless actions such as removing a mural from the Department of Labor; and just plain unprofessional behavior that suggested he might not be up to the job he had won with less than 39 percent of the vote last November.

We expressed the hope – the belief, in fact – that the governor would grow into the job over time.

The scrutiny and criticism aimed at a governor by the media and other critics is far more intense than anything LePage experienced as mayor of Waterville; it was understandable that there would be a period of adjustment.

And he seems to be adjusting. True enough, he can still ignite controversy by speaking his mind – or by speaking without consulting his mind – but the flare-ups have become less frequent and LePage seems less inclined to keep the controversies going by throwing verbal gasoline on whatever fire might have started.

We’re inclined to believe that such positive developments have contributed to his improving poll numbers.

Beyond that, it’s entirely possible that some Mainers who previously disapproved of his policies are beginning to appreciate the governor’s insistence on restraining government spending and fostering an improved business climate in the state.

TOP CONCERN

The latest Critical Insights poll found that unemployment was the top concern for 44 percent of respondents.

It stands to reason that people who are concerned about the stifling effect of joblessness in their own lives and in terms of the statewide economy would be supportive of a governor who is determined to create conditions that will encourage businesses in Maine to expand and businesses outside the state to locate here.

Business start-ups are crucial to job creation and LePage is working hard – often in the face of fervent opposition – to ease the regulatory burdens that inhibit business development and growth.

LePage is less than one year into his four-term term as governor, of course, and public opinion can turn on a dime. With the Legislature gearing up for its January session and the governor looking for ways to reduce the state budget by $25 million in the next fiscal year, LePage could quickly find himself besieged by those who disagree with his ideas and policies.

And there’s this: Unless the recent lack of political fireworks reflects a massive change in the governor’s approach to expressing his point of view, LePage is never more than one newspaper quote, video clip or press conference away from stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Still, the new poll numbers offer hope that the governor is moving the state in the right direction and that he’s more in tune with his constituents than he was during those early days of adjustment.