A new name in top 10
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu makes his debut in the top 10, joining nine other Republicans as the most popular governors in the country. Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, two Republicans in deep blue states, remain entrenched at the top of the rankings ahead of their 2018 re-election bids. Meanwhile, Govs. Phil Scott of Vermont and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, also in the top 10, round out the coterie of most popular Republicans who are leading states carried by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.
Christie plumbs new depths
With just a few months left in office, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) retains his spot at the bottom of the rankings, with 77 percent of Garden State voters disapproving of his job performance — a record low since Morning Consult began tracking public sentiment on governors in 2016. Two other governors, Kansas’ Sam Brownback (R) and Connecticut’s Dan Malloy (D), have cracked the 70s on disapproval before — and aren’t expected to be in office much longer. Brownback is awaiting Senate confirmation to lead the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and Malloy announced in April he will not seek a third term in 2018. They join Christie in the bottom three.
First-term West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tops the list of negative net swings in approval for the third quarter of 2017 following his ballyhooed announcement — complete with an appearance by President Donald Trump — that he was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican. The move from the left to the right side of the aisle has thus far brought all of the political risks without any of the benefits, polling shows. The billionaire businessman hemorrhaged support from Democrats and independents while suffering GOP defections at a lower rate, resulting in a net drop of 22 points. That puts him 5 points underwater: 41 percent of Mountaineers approve of him, while 46 percent disapprove.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois, who continues to clash with Democrats in the Legislature over budget issues and has overseen a period of staff upheaval, is still sliding with voters ahead of his re-election bid next year. He experienced a net loss of 16 points, with 30 percent approving of his job performance and 55 percent disapproving.
Two Republican incumbents who won’t seek re-election next year because of term limits — Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Wyoming’s Matt Mead — also saw declining fortunes among their constituents. Mead lost 16 net points and Martinez went down 14 net points. However, 59 percent of voters approve of Mead, while Martinez is 15 points underwater — 37 percent approve vs. 52 percent disapprove.
Small gains among winners
While there were no large swings in net gains made by any governors during the third quarter, a few made small improvements, including GOP Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas (up 7 points), Rick Scott of Florida (5 points), Scott Walker of Wisconsin (4 points) and Eric Holcomb of Indiana (3 points).
Potential 2020 hopefuls
It was not a banner quarter for governors considered potential 2020 presidential candidates — almost all experienced net drops in approval ratings, though they remain popular among constituents. On the Democratic side were New York’s Andrew Cuomo (down 8 points), Washington’s Jay Inslee (down 6 points), Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe (down 6 points), along with North Carolina’s Roy Cooper and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper (who each lost 3 points). Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) saw no net change in his approval rating.
Branstad’s replacement largely unknown
Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) assumed office on May 24 after serving as the state’s lieutenant governor since 2011. She replaced former Gov. Terry Branstad, who became U.S. ambassador to China that month. Reynolds is the most unknown governor among constituents in Morning Consult’s rankings. Three in 10 Iowan voters said they didn’t know or had no opinion about Reynolds, but she is off to a solid start, with an approval rating of 45 percent and a disapproval rating of 27 percent.