Back in May, a lot of us Democratic bloggers took note, and heart, from the first in a series of tracking polls of all 50 Governors’ approval ratings by the polling outfit SurveyUSA.The latest SUSA tracking poll, as Chris Bowers of MyDD quickly noted, shows some significant changes, especially in the states affected directly and indirectly by Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, while Katrina has helped push George W. Bush’s approval ratings to their lowest levels ever, the disaster is helping several GOP governors.With the exception of Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, virtually every Governor with a significant role in Katrina relief or recovery got a tangible bounce. In the following list, the first number is the governor’s approval/disapproval rating in the September 16-18 SUSA tracking, while the second (in parenthesis) is his ratio in the May poll.Haley Barbour (R-MS) 58/39 (37/55)Bob Riley (R-AL) 58/37 (36/52)Rick Perry (R-TX) 49/45 (38/48)Mike Huckabee (R-AR) 58/38 (51/41)Sonny Perdue (R-GA) 61-34 (47/40)Perdue’s Georgia wasn’t hit directly by Katrina, but did suffer some storm and tornado damage; he got a lot of ink for immediately calling the legislature into a special session to approve a gasoline price gougingbill.One Democratic Governor benefitted from an “Ophelia effect:” NC’s Mike Easley, whose approval ratio improved from 52/34 to 64/30.The “Katrina effect” helps three incumbent Republican Governors up in 2008 who were and may still be in some political peril, Rick Perry, Sonny Perdue and especially Bob Riley. The latter faces a primary challenge from “Ten Commandments” Judge Roy Moore, and a potentially tough general election opponent in Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley. (Riley got some more good news today when his predecessor, Don Siegelman, formally announced he was challenging Baxley for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, ensuring an expensive and possibly divisive primary).Barbour’s boost not only gets him out of the political woods in Mississippi (where he doesn’t face re-election until 2007), but also provides some fuel for the previously laughable boomlet of support for the ol’ rascal to run for president in 2008.All these effects are probably temporary, and all these Republican beneficiaries have lots of other problems. Perdue, for example, is presiding over a significant economic slide in a state that has known little but boomtimes for much of the last two decades. In Alabama, Roy Moore’s supporters are going to back him against Riley come hell or high water. And in both these states GOPers remain vulnerable to slow-developing fallout from the Jack Abramoff/Ralph Reed Indian Casino Shakedown Scandal.Outside the Katrina Region, the SUSA tracking polls don’t show a great deal of movement. Among Democrats, Ed Rendell (PA) and Phil Bredesen (TN) have slipped a bit, but both still look like solid bets for re-election. Mark Warner (VA) now has an approval/disapproval ratio well over two-to-one (66/29), which could help his designated successor, Tim Kaine, this November. Christine Gregoire of Washington has climbed from 34/58 in May to 45/49 in September.And the bottom five Governors are all Republicans: Blunt (MO), Fletcher (KY), Schwarzenegger (CA), Murkowski (AK) and Taft (OH). Ah-nold was already in trouble in May, with a ratio of 40/56; now he’s down to 32/65, in polling done about the time he announced his re-election bid.All in all, it’s a timely reminder that national issues cut differently in the states, and that whatever happens with Congress, there’s an enormously important series of pitched battles going on over governorships across the country.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I returned to one of my favorite themes at New York this week in the context of the ongoing MAGA delegitimization of elections:
Donald Trump’s obsession with inflated estimates of the crowd sizes at his various live events has been a long-running joke in American politics. This was exhibited most famously in his bitter argument with the National Park Service over the number of people who attended his inauguration five years ago. But as Elaine Godfrey notes at The Atlantic, the phenomenon persists even today, and it’s central to MAGA claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump:
“Before the 2020 election, Trump and his fans would often ask reporters how Joe Biden could possibly win when he didn’t have rallies as big as Trump’s. Now that Biden is president, Trump-rally goers say things like Trump couldn’t really have lost. Look at all of these people! In Arizona this weekend, 51-year-old Tammy Shutts put it this way to me: ‘100 percent, 1,000 percent, 1 million percent Biden didn’t win’ her state, she said, gesturing to the hordes of people around her. ‘I’ve been in Arizona for almost 21 years. There is no way—no way—we went blue.’”
As Godfrey acutely observes, big crowds aren’t “just a bragging point” for Trump and his supporters. It’s “proof they are part of the American majority.” This both reflects and reinforces the core belief in MAGA land that more objective measurements of Trump’s popularity, like polls and election results, are unreliable and likely “rigged.” The proof? Look at those crowds!
Th preference for subjective instead of objective standards for political strength was not, of course, invented by Trump or his followers. It’s pretty common among political groups who don’t want to accept evidence that they are outnumbered or outgunned. During the home stretch of the very competitive 2012 presidential campaign, with polls showing Barack Obama building a solid lead over Mitt Romney, there was a profusion of Republican wishful thinking based not only on comparative crowd size but on the number of Romney yard signs evident along the highways and byways of the country. This obsession with the display of popularity reached epic levels during Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, which greatly valued huge flags and signs, boat parades, owning the libs with obnoxious motorcades through Democratic areas, and, of course, Trump’s rallies. The Biden campaign could not remotely match all this frenetic activity, in part, to be clear, because it considered it unsafe to voters, campaign operatives, and volunteers alike in the middle of a pandemic. But to an extent that leaves coastal elites baffled, the conviction has spread that Biden’s base of support was a statistical Potemkin village because it was far less visible.
Political operatives and pundits should examine themselves in the mirror before making too much fun of this hammerheaded, snail’s-eye view of political popularity. Some of its also stems from the incessantly discussed and near-universally accepted emphasis in recent political discourse on enthusiasm as a tangible election-winning asset. It does matter, to be sure, particularly in midterm and off-year contests, in which lukewarm voters often do not participate. But a candidate does not get extra votes for having supporters who are teeming with joy or fury, and enthusiasm beyond the point needed to get voters to the polls only helps if it is communicable. As a substitute for objective data about electoral outcomes, enthusiasm and its visible signs can be actively misleading.
But if your favorite president and partisan media have told you day in and day out for years that polls are fake news and elections are rigged, then direct experience of the strength of the political cause you share with so many others (in many places, with virtually all of your friends and neighbors) is all you’ve got. Add in a polarized atmosphere in which the other “team” is deemed actively evil and its supporters are dismissed as dupes or fellow-travelers in sin, and you get January 6, 2021. On that day, another crowd — “the biggest crowd I’ve ever,” according to Trump — formed to overwhelm Congress with its conviction that Biden’s victory was a lie because the Democrat didn’t command those monster crowds.
The sense that the MAGA movement feels like a majority and thus must be one is naturally growing stronger at a time when Democratic enthusiasm is low and Trump is plotting a triumphant restoration to power, whatever it takes. As Yeats famously said of post–World War I Europe just over a century ago, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Unfortunately, some of the worst believe their passionate intensity entitles them to rule.