RALEIGH – Political junkies and commentators have long been fascinated with approval ratings for presidents, Congress, and other federal and national institutions. When several networks and media organizations began commissioning daily polls, the fascination became a fixation.
I go through bouts of this fixation, admittedly, though they are now spaced with even-lengthier bouts of many-other-things-to-do. In part, it’s because I focus most of my attention on state and local politics and policy. The day-to-day ratings for federal politicians don’t interest me much, and less so now than in the past when I thought Washington might actually take on an important national issue, such as Social Security reform, and do something constructive. Not in the cards for now. Plus, there is no national referendum to elect members of the U.S. House and Senate, and presidential races are on longer cycles, so approval ratings aren’t really as useful an indicator for electoral outcomes as some seems to believe.
Interestingly, while the Right talked a lot in the 1980s and 1990s about devolving power and political interest to state capitals – and the Left has talked the same game since 2000 – some aspects of the national political/media culture have yet to make their way to, say, Raleigh. Polling is an example. No publicly available polls are conducted in North Carolina weekly, much less daily. Media organizations commission surveys occasionally, more frequently during election cycles, and there are now several regular monthly surveys (results from the Civitas Institute and, during academic semesters, Elon University are often cited by news organizations and commentators).
While these state surveys yield some interesting results, the lack of more frequency makes trends such as approval ratings a bit harder to follow and evaluate. There aren’t enough data points to play with, really.
The latest Southern Political Report, published by InsiderAdvantage, offers perhaps a more-interesting way to consider state-level polls on voter approval: cross-sectional. The venerable newsletter’s February 27 issue compiles findings from Survey USA polls in May 2005 and February 2006 in order to rank Southern governors in both recent standing and recent change in standing.
Cutting to the chase, our own Gov. Mike Easley comes in slightly below average, both regionally and nationally, with an approval rating of 50 percent, down just two points from his May 2005 showing. When I mentioned this to some colleagues around town, both pro- and anti-Easley, they were to a person surprised. Remembering the governor’s easy reelection in 2004 and noticing the lack of any major political hits in recent months, they assumed that Easley was wildly popular. He’s not. Of course, this does not suggest that there is some groundswell of anti-Easley sentiment. For marginal and swing voters, he simply doesn’t register anymore (it not being campaign season). When compared to other governors, who are getting major credit or major blame for trying to do major things, Easley’s agenda is modest and his public profile is limited.
The most popular governor in the region is Democrat Brad Henry of Oklahoma (SPR treats it as a Southern state, go figure), with 74 percent approval. The next three in ranking are Republicans: Florida’s Jeb Bush (62 percent), Georgia’s Sonny Perdue (60 percent), and Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee (60 percent).
The lowest-ranked guv is, not surprisingly, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana at 32 percent. That’s even lower than President Bush’s current anemic showing. Perhaps the two share some experience in the recent past that continues to generate adverse publicity. . .
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.