Gov. Dannel Malloy earned his highest job approval rating to date in a new poll released last week.

The poll, which was conducted by conservative thinktank the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, sampled 450 respondents by phone and 50 via the Internet. It found that 54 percent of Connecticut residents approved of the governor’s performance and 45 percent disapproved, with a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. The governor’s budget was viewed less favorably, with an approval rating of 51 percent.

Forty percent of sample respondents were registered Democratic voters, 28 percent were Republican voters and 32 percent were independent voters, underrepresenting unaffiliated voters in the state by 10 percentage points according to the secretary of the state’s office.

Experts interviewed said that these figures are a product of the particular time at which the poll was conducted. Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said that the poll was taken in the wake of several tragedies and weather-related disasters to hit the state this year, including Hurricane Sandy, the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and a massive blizzard.

Each time another misfortune befell Connecticut, McLean said, Malloy was seen as a leader.

“There was a lot of [Malloy] in a sort of take-charge position,” McLean said. “Typically when executives have those opportunities to be front and center, the public tends to respond by giving them higher job approval ratings.”

One year ago, when Malloy’s approval rating was last assessed by the Yankee Institute, the governor was fighting for controversial bills including an abolition of the death penalty and an education reform package. His approval rating registered at 51–46.

Moreover, the poll may have been conducted too early for the lay voter in Connecticut to understand the implications of the governor’s proposed budget, said Ronald Schurin, a politics professor at the University of Connecticut. The poll was conducted just four days after the governor first announced the details of his budget plan, before a coalition of mayors and first selectmen across the state denounced it for diverting too much money from municipal aid. Nonetheless, given basic information about the budget, 54 percent of voters said the proposed package spends too heavily.

When voters were asked if they would re-elect the governor against a generic Republican, 42 percent said yes and 39 percent said no – a 3-percentage-point difference that falls within the poll’s margin of error. Schurin said that Malloy faces an uphill battle in a Democratic state that elected Republican governors in five of the last six gubernatorial elections.

“There is a very unusual tradition of not looking very favorably on Democratic governors,” Schurin said.

Still, he added, Malloy’s re-election prospects are relatively high despite a tax increase he pushed through in his last biennial budget, as well as his support for controversial education reform measures and the ban on the death penalty. The fact that Malloy is slightly ahead, he said, gives the governor reason to hope for a successful campaign in 2014.

Spokesmen for the Connecticut Republican Party could not be reached for comment.

Tom Foley, the 2010 Republican candidate for governor, as well as Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero are expected to enter the 2014 Republican primary.