Tim Pawlenty is the Republican governor of Minnesota who is completing the second of his two terms. In the midst of a tough recessionary environment, he has been forced by a profligate legislature to balance the state budget by his own hand and to veto reckless tax increases. The actions might have made him unpopular. But have they?
The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait argues in a column this morning that Obama’s bait-and-switch liberalism does not account for his sinking poll numbers. Chait writes:
Is Obama really sliding because of his liberal policies? If so, then you might expect to see governors doing better–after all, they’re cutting spending. But governors of both parties have seen their approval ratings fall as well. Tim Pawlenty is unpopular. Arnold Schwarzenegger is really unpopular.
Chait may be right about Schwarzenegger, but Is Pawlenty unpopular? Eric Ostemeier addressed the question on the Humphrey Institute’s Smart Politics blog at length last month. Ostermeier wrote:
Now more than two months removed from a brutal budget battle with the DFL, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has seen his approval numbers rise to its highest level this year, according to SurveyUSA’s latest “snapshot in time.”
Pawlenty’s approval rating for the month of July increased six points from June to 53 percent – tying January for his best mark of 2009. Forty-four percent of Minnesotans said they disapproved of Pawlenty’s job performance in a poll conducted of 600 adults from July 17-19.
Pawlenty’s return to moderately high approval numbers comes even as recent unemployment data continues to leave Minnesotans uncertain about the economic future of the state. June’s unemployment rate of 8.4 percent is the highest the Gopher State has endured in more than 25 years (April 1983).
While Pawlenty has not completely rebounded to his two-year approval rating high of 58 percent immediately after the 2008 election, this is the first statistically significant rise in job performance numbers for Pawlenty since the state’s jobless claims began to rise at a record pace last November.
Additionally, Governor Pawlenty has fared much better than many of his colleagues across the country. SurveyUSA tracks the approval ratings of approximately one-quarter of the nation’s governors, and Pawlenty’s 8.6 percent (5.0-point) drop in approval ratings from November 2008 to July 2009 is the third lowest in the 13-state sample. (Other states tracked are Alabama, California, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin).
(Emphasis in original.) If there is a more recent Survey USA or Rasmussen poll on Pawlenty, and there may well be, I have missed it. But the Survey USA poll surveys adults rather than likely voters and therefore probably understates Governor Pawlenty’s popularity among the voting Minnesota public, and the Smart Politics post quoted above dating from last month provides the best analysis of Pawlenty’s popularity that I have seen.
Governor Pawlenty is far from “unpopular” — especially if one compares him with other governors, or with President Obama. In short, I think Chait is wrong about both Obama and Pawlenty.
UPDATE: I asked Scott Rasmussen for his most recent poll results on Governor Pawlenty. Scott kindly directed me to these July 15 numbers showing Pawlenty with a 56-43 approve/disapprove rating.