Democratic Governors Are All Kind of Meh

Over at National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru notes that Morning Consult’s list of popular governors is 100 percent Republican in the top ten. And that’s unusual: “I calculated the chance that all ten of the most popular governors would be Republicans just based on their dominance of governorships at 0.9 percent.”

I think there might be more going on here than pure arithmetic, but set that aside. When I clicked the link I was a little puzzled to find that the least popular governors were also Republicans. With only a few exceptions, Democratic governors exclusively occupy a zone of mediocre popularity:

What’s going on here? A bit of research might shed some light, but I’m too lazy for that. Instead, I’ll toss out a few possibilities:

  • Republicans really hate Democrats and when Republicans respond to polls they virtually all disapprove of Democratic governors no matter how they’re doing.
  • Democrats whine and moan about their Democratic governors more than Republicans do about their Republican governors. Republicans tend to coalesce around their governors more than Democrats do.
  • Republican governors are more likely to have Republican legislatures, which makes it easier to get things done.
  • Newly-elected governors tend to be more popular, and we just happen to have a bunch of newly elected Republicans right now. For some reason I got kind of curious about this one, so I checked it out:

    Nope, nothing there, not even the tiniest correlation. That’s actually kind of peculiar, isn’t it? Granted, things are messed up by the fact that so many governors take office during the same week in January every few years, but still, you’d expect something. Butch Otter has been governor of Idaho for nearly 12 years, but he continues to putter along with dead average popularity.

  • On average, maybe Democrats just do mediocre jobs as governor.
  • Perhaps it’s something racial, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Democrats are more likely to win governorships of urban states, and this forces them to walk a tightrope between the black and Hispanic voters who put them in office and the white voters in the rest of the state. That leads to lots of mushy decisions that please no one. Conversely, Republican governors in white states can pretty much ignore people of color and just do what their white supporters want. This makes them popular. As for the really unpopular Republican voters, well, maybe they just all fucked up somehow?

Any other ideas? This would be nothing but an oddity except for the fact that governors often serve as the bench for presidential candidates. If Democrats are light on popular governors, that’s potentially a problem for presidential campaigns.

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