Are Unpopular Governors Doomed?

I'm not the only one who has noticed that numerous governors have seen their approval ratings plummet in recent months. Governor after governor seems ...
by | May 8, 2009
 

I'm not the only one who has noticed that numerous governors have seen their approval ratings plummet in recent months. Governor after governor seems to be suffering politically as their constituents suffer economically. Voters, it seems, are blaming their state executives for lost jobs and homes, as well as looming cuts in government services and tax increases.

The question now is whether, politically speaking, any of this matters. In November 2010, voters will decide 36 gubernatorial races. Are governors who have low approval ratings right now likely to lose their reelection bids in 2010?

To get at this question, I decided to look back at governor's approval ratings from May 2005, which was also 18 months before a midterm election. At the time, SurveyUSA was polling the approval rating of governors in all 50 states. Below is a chart of the approval rating of every governor who was going to be up for reelection in 2006 (and who wasn't term-limited), along with the election results in 2006.

Gov Approval 18 Months Before Election

The most basic message from these numbers is that governors with low approval ratings right now aren't doomed. Eight governors with negative job approval numbers ended up winning. It's not at all uncommon for an unpopular governor to bounce back and win a second term.

But, this data also suggests that approval ratings at this early stage do matter. The most popular governors in May 2005 all ended up winning reelection quite easily in 2006. Many of the moderately popular and unpopular ones only won that second term after a difficult fight.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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