The top ten most popular governors in America are all Republicans, according to a Morning Consult poll published Tuesday. This fact is very significant, because Democrats have set their sights on gubernatorial elections in 2018, in order to set up a more favorable state-level system for the 2020 census and the redistricting which follows.
After the Democrats lost big last November, Politico reported that “numerous Democrats noted that electing governors in 2018 is the first concrete step the party can take toward having a bigger say in the next decennial redistricting process, after the 2020 census.” Unfortunately for Democrats, their gubernatorial prospects look rather bleak.
— The RGA (@The_RGA) April 11, 2017
According to the poll, the top ten most popular governors are all Republicans, and seven of them are up for re-election in 2018. Interestingly, the top two governors are Republicans in blue states that Hillary Clinton won: Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker (with a whopping 75 percent approval) and Maryland’s Larry Hogan (73 percent approval). Only 17 percent of Bay Staters disapprove of Baker, and 16 percent disapprove of Hogan. Both Baker and Hogan are up for re-election in 2018, and seem very likely to win.
Others up for re-election include Vermont’s Phil Scott (68 percent approval), South Dakota’s Dennis Daugaard (68 percent), Nevada’s Brian Sandoval (64 percent), Tennessee’s Bill Haslam (64 percent), and Texas’ Greg Abbott (64 percent). Democrats might not attempt states like South Dakota, Texas, and Tennessee, but a Republican that popular in Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont should leave many scratching their heads.
Of course, the news isn’t all roses for Republicans. Most of the ten least popular governors were also Republicans, although Connecticut’s Democrat governor, Dan Malloy, took third to last with only 29 percent approving and 66 percent disapproving.
Dead last was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, with a pitiful 25 percent approval and a whopping 71 percent disapproval. Just before him came Kansas’ Sam Brownback (27 percent approval, 66 percent disapproval), hurt by economic woes in his home state. Michigan’s Rick Snyder also received poor marks, with 40 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving.
Interestingly, these and others actually fared worse than the most notorious governor in the country right now, Alabama’s Robert Bentley, who resigned amid scandal on Monday and was booked into county jail. Despite this, Bentley was only the ninth least popular governor in America, with 44 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval.
The seats belonging to eight of the ten least popular governors are up for re-election in 2018. This includes Wisconsin’s Scott Walker (46 percent approval), Alabama’s Bentley, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez (43 percent), Alaska’s Bill Walker (Independent, 43 percent), Illinois’ Bruce Rauner (42 percent), Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin (41 percent), Connecticut’s Malloy, Kansas’ Brownback, and New Jersey’s Christie.
Democrat prospects are likely strongest in liberal New Jersey, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and perhaps Oklahoma. Despite Brownback’s unpopularity, Kansas is a deep red state.
Christie’s seat is up in November of this year, along with the seat of Virginia’s Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe (53 percent approval). Both states voted for Hillary Clinton. While McAuliffe is only the 31st most popular governor in America, he still receives majority support in a swing state with close elections that trend Democrat. Even so, it is feasible for the right Republican to win.
Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, despite being the sixth least popular governor in America, has improved his standing in the blue state. His current 42 percent approval is a marked improvement from a 33 percent showing in September. It may be possible for him to keep his seat in 2018 if this trend continues.
The possible Republican pickup in Connecticut should be a fascinating race. Malloy’s numbers have improved slightly (up to 29 percent approval from 26 percent in September, and down to 66 percent disapproval from 70 percent in September), but not enough to shore up his seat. In a time when the most popular governors in America are Republicans in deep blue states, a pickup in Connecticut is indeed feasible.
There are five other governors with below average approval whose seats will be up next year. Hawaii’s David Ige (48 percent), Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf (48 percent), and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo (48 percent) could be in trouble, on the Democrat side. Iowa’s Terry Branstad (48 percent) and Maine’s Paul LePage (48 percent) could be in jeopardy among Republicans.
If all the feasible unpopular governors lose to the opposing party next year, Democrats would win six seats but lose four, for a net gain of two. If Democrats hold on to Virginia and take New Jersey, that takes them up to three, and if Rauner fails to hold his own in Illinois, that would be four.
Right now, Republicans hold 33 governorships to the Democrats’ 16. If the Morning Consult poll is accurate and the Democrats pick up this maximum suggestion, they would have 20 governorships, and Republicans would still hold 29.
It is important to note that many Democrat governors are also popular: New York’s Andrew Cuomo (62 percent approval), Delaware’s John Carney (61 percent), Colorado’s John Hickenlooper (61 percent), Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards (60 percent), and Montana’s Steve Bullock (59 percent) all rank in the top twenty. Even so, Republicans have 22 governors with approval ratings of 50 percent or more, while Democrats only have 12.
The poll included a whopping 85,000 registered voters across America, who evaluated their governors’ job performance from January 2017 through March 2017.
While Democrats may have more pickup opportunities, Republicans still have a very enviable position. But the GOP should not get too cocky — the president’s party does tend to lose in off-year elections.