Above average Joe
A recent poll of approval ratings for the nation’s governors confirms that yup, Nevada has one. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis/Nevada Current)
“NEW POLL: Governor Lombardo Remains One Of America’s Most Popular Governors,” declared a release Wednesday from a political action committee that exists to support Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo.
The release linked to fresh survey results from the Morning Consult polling firm. And the release is true – with an approval rating of 58% and a disapproval rating of 29%, Lombardo is one of the nation’s “most popular” governors.
If you consider one of the most popular to be 19th out of 50.
It’s not clear if the pro-Lombardo Better Nevada PAC really does. When it issued the release, it neglected to mention the 19th place thing.
The last time Morning Consult released approval ratings for governors, in July, Lombardo had the 20th highest approval rating. Then as now, the Better Nevada PAC leapt into action, issuing a statement trumpeting its figurehead, and scoring some area headlines to show for it.
It might be a stretch to say that 19th or 20th out of 50 equates to “one of America’s most popular governors.”
But Lombardo’s 58% approval is above average.
The average approval rating for all 50 governors in the Morning Consult poll: 57%.
The 26th most popular governor was one of several with an approval rating of 56%. Polling being an inexact science, it’s entirely possible Lombardo and that governor, California’s Gavin Newsom, are in reality equally popular.
But then, governors usually are popular. In the Morning Consult poll, all but five governors had approval ratings of at least 50%.
The least popular governor in the U.S. (Tina Kotek, D-OR) had an approval rating of 44%, and that was still higher than her disapproval rating.
Not a single governor was “upside down,” i.e., had a disapproval rating higher than their approval rating. None of them even had equal approval-disapproval ratings. Even Kotek – even Ron DeSantis (41st most popular governor) – had approval ratings higher than their disapproval.
Compare that to U.S. senators, whose approval Morning Consult also polled. While only a small handful of governors had approval ratings below 50%, more than half the 100 senators did, including both of Nevada’s, Catherine Cortez Masto (48% approval) and Jacky Rosen (42%).
And while none of the governors were upside down, seven senators were (led by Mitch McConnell with a truly impressive disapproval rating of 63%). Two more of them had approval ratings that merely matched their disapproval rating.
Democratic governors are popular in red states – Andy Beshear’s approval rating in Kentucky is 60%, Laura Kelly’s in Kansas, 58%.
And, a la Lombardo in Nevada, Republican governors are popular in blue ones. Vermont is the home of Bernie Sanders (60% approval rating and 9th most popular senator) and a state where Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. It’s also home of the nation’s most popular governor, Republican Phil Scott, who sports a whopping 83% approval rating in the Morning Consult poll.
What makes U.S. senators less popular than governors?
Decades of deliberately trying to undermine the federal government and Congress, most of it orchestrated and executed by Republicans and their corporate allies, has something to do with it.
It’s also easier for governors to at least somewhat steer clear of whatever national hot-button issue is polarizing the public at any given time. It’s harder for senators to avoid high profile, news-cycle-gobbling events and quasi-events that get splashed all over social and other media (though Cortez Masto and Rosen certainly do their best to avoid most of them).
But perhaps the most obvious reason that governors are routinely popular is the job itself. With the exception of carnival barkers like DeSantis, and in the absence of world-historical anomalies like the pandemic, governors tend to be in the public eye only intermittently, in connection with state budgets, parochial statutes, and the administration of state government.
Important stuff, often. But rarely the stuff that inspires, antagonizes or even gets the attention of the general public.
A few years ago there was a survey, one of several in the genre, by Johns Hopkins University that found a third of Americans couldn’t name their state’s governor, and 80% couldn’t name their state legislator.
The study was obviously flawed. The percentage who can’t name their state legislator has got to be at least 90%.
Just kidding. Probably.
But people are busy with … all the things people are busy with. Being informed on even high-profile national policy debates demands some level of time and proactive interest. State and local issues? The occasional proposal or ordinance that potentially has an impact on their specific occupation, or street, or house, might attract an average voter’s attention. Or it might not.
Put another way, if a critical mass of regular but casual voters could be expected to give much regard to legislative budget battles or state policy proposals, Lombardo would have campaigned on them.
Instead he campaigned in his uniform.
Apart from some headlines during a legislative session, governors are mostly out of sight and out of mind. Again, using Lombardo as an example, other than pretending to be outraged by a puffed-up micro-scandal tirelessly peddled by the Better Lombardo, er, Better Nevada PAC, what exactly has he been doing since the legislative session ended in June? What will Lombardo be doing between now and the start of the next one in February 2025?
The reasonable answer from most people: Who? What?
When voters, and not just Nevada ones, are asked by a pollster if they approve of their governor, and they say they do, it’s safe to assume what a lot of them really mean is: “Governor? Um, yeah, we should have one.”
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