Big State Governors Remain Unpopular

Public Policy Polling has a new survey that shows 55% of Louisiana voters approving of the job that Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing. At first glance, ...
by | July 23, 2009

Public Policy Polling has a new survey that shows 55% of Louisiana voters approving of the job that Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing. At first glance, that seems pretty mediocre. Jindal is the Republican governor of an increasingly Republican state. He's supposed to be a rising star in his party. He can't do a little better than 55%?

However, when Jindal is compared to other governors, he comes out looking quite good. From Public Policy Polling:

Jindal's popularity in the state ranks him third among 17 Governors PPP has polled on around the country so far in 2009, trailing only Arkansas' Mike Beebe and Delaware's Jack Markell. That's certainly a testament to his appeal, but it also says something about how unpopular Governors are right now that a 55% approval can put you in the 80th percentile.

That poll of Markell was taken months ago, before Delaware approved major tax increases. There's a good chance that if PPP conducted all of these polls again right now, Jindal, at 55%, would be in second place.

That got me wondering: Just how many governors do have approval ratings over 50% right now? I've tried my best to guess, based on publicly available polling and my regular reading about politics in the states.

Those definitely above 50% include: Jindal, Beebe, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Sarah Palin (until she leaves in a few days), Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (for a few more days). There are others I'm pretty sure about, including Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

There are a bunch of other small state governors who still seem popular, although polling in their states is often scarce. I have in mind North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and probably Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle.

Then there are the borderline cases. Arizona's Jan Brewer Arizona and Kansas' Mark Parkinson probably have more people approving of them than disapproving, but, since opinions of them aren't very well formed yet, it's debatable whether they hit 50%. Other borderline cases include Markell, Tim Kaine in Virginia, Butch Otter in Idaho, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee and Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota. There may be a couple others who are more popular than I realize.

This actually is a good chunk of the governors. I've mentioned 29 of them. So why have I been talking about how unpopular governors are right now? And why have Public Policy Polling and Nate Silver been talking about it too?

The reason, it seems to me, is that we're understandably most focused on the governors of the more populous states. By my count, only 5 of the governors of the 15 most populous states might have approval ratings over 50% -- and that includes borderline cases such as Kaine and Brewer.

This isn't a recent development. I remember looking a gubernatorial approval ratings three or four years ago and seeing that small-state governors were much more popular than their big-state brethren.

What's not clear to me is why that would be the case. Are the problems of big states really more complex and difficult? Is it just that the small states, many of which are dependent on energy and commodity prices, have had good economic luck over the past few years?  Are big states more partisan? Do they have more aggressive press corps? For whatever reason, it's harder to be the governor of a big state.

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

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