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Why Governor Pawlenty Is Not in the 'Danger Zone'

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The headline from the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll results released on Thursday morning reads:

"Pawlenty's popularity loses some luster, edging toward 'danger zone'"

The new poll measured Pawlenty's approval rating at 48 percent in the Gopher State, which the Star Tribune writes, "is lower than it has ever been."

But is that so?

It is upon examining only Star Tribune polling data, which is the subset of data analyzed by the paper in its comparative review. But Pawlenty has actually fallen to and dipped below the 48 percent mark several times since he assumed office in January 2003:

February 2009: 48% (SurveyUSA)
June 2005: 48% (SurveyUSA)
October 2006: 45% (SurveyUSA)
April 2006: 44% (Rasmussen)
July 2005: 43% (SurveyUSA)
August 2005: 40% (SurveyUSA)

Political analysts generally consider numbers below the 50 percent approval mark to be the rough gauge that an officeholder seeking reelection (which Pawlenty has not yet declared) is vulnerable.

But are the Star Tribune results as grim as the new survey suggests? Not quite. In fact, in some respects, they are quite average for the Governor.

For one, Pawlenty's disapproval numbers were only 36 percent in the survey of 1,042 adults, yielding a 12-point net approval rating. As reported in the Star Tribune article, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung responded:

"In light of the fact that the state leans DFL, the economy is challenged, and we're in the closing weeks of a tough session, a 12-point advantage for approval over disapproval shows that most Minnesotans support Gov. Pawlenty holding government accountable by controlling spending and keeping a lid on taxes."

A Smart Politics analyis of Pawlenty's historical approval numbers reveal McClung's statement is not spin.

Smart Politics examined the net approval rating for Governor Pawlenty in 67 polls dating back to January 2003. Pawlenty has actually had a 12-point or less net approval rating in nearly half of them - 33 polls. In fact, Pawlenty's average net approval rating is +11.8 points across these 67 polls, so the new Star Tribune poll finds Pawlenty ever so slightly above his average net approval rating.

In short, these are familiar numbers for the Pawlenty administration, and if the Governor is in the 'danger zone' now, then he has been in that zone throughout about half of the past 6+ years.

Governor Tim Pawlenty's Lowest 33 Net Approval Ratings, 2003-2009

Poll
Date
Approve
Disapprove
Net
SurveyUSA
August 12-14, 2005
40
50
-10
SurveyUSA
October 12-15, 2006
45
52
-7
SurveyUSA
July 8-10, 2005
43
50
-7
Rasmussen
April 27, 2006
44
49
-5
Rasmussen
February 20, 2006
49
49
0
Rasmussen
November 1, 2006
50
49
+1
SurveyUSA
June 10-12, 2005
48
46
+2
SurveyUSA
November 8-11, 2006
49
47
+2
SurveyUSA
November 8-11, 2006
49
47
+2
Rasmussen
October 4, 2006
51
49
+2
HHH
October 23-28, 2006
50
47
+3
SurveyUSA
February 20-22, 2009
48
44
+4
SurveyUSA
March 20-22, 2009
51
46
+5
SurveyUSA
March 14-16, 2008
51
46
+5
SurveyUSA
June 9-11, 2006
51
46
+5
SurveyUSA
November 11-13, 2005
50
45
+5
SurveyUSA
August 15-17, 2008
51
45
+6
SurveyUSA
May 16-18, 2008
52
46
+6
SurveyUSA
February 15-17, 2008
52
46
+6
SurveyUSA
June 8-10, 2007
51
45
+6
SurveyUSA
April 11-13, 2008
52
45
+7
SurveyUSA
January 13-15, 2006
51
44
+7
SurveyUSA
May 12-14, 2006
51
43
+8
SurveyUSA
October 14-16, 2005
52
44
+8
SurveyUSA
May 11-13, 2007
53
44
+9
SurveyUSA
July 14-16, 2006
52
42
+10
SurveyUSA
April 7-9, 2006
52
42
+10
SurveyUSA
September 16-18, 2005
54
44
+10
SurveyUSA
July 13-15, 2007
53
42
+11
Star Tribune
April 20-23, 2009
48
36
+12
SurveyUSA
January 20-21, 2009
53
41
+12
SurveyUSA
October 17-19, 2008
55
43
+12
Rasmussen
December 14, 2005
55
43
+12
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

There is another aspect about the new Star Tribune poll which, although not acknowledged in its recent report on the Governor's approval rating, strengthens McClung's statement in defense of the Governor.

According to the Star Tribune's Dennis McGrath, of the 1,042 adults surveyed in the new poll, just 200, or 19.2 percent, identified themselves as Republicans (in the poll's first release earlier in the week on the U.S. Senate contest, the paper reported the number at 20 percent). A total of 370 Minnesotans, or 35.5 percent, identified as Democrats.

This marks the lowest percentage of Minnesotans identifying as Republicans, in a Smart Politics analysis of 107 polls conducted statewide since January 2000. The new Star Tribune poll sample of 1.85 Democrats for every 1.0 Republicans is also the greatest partisan advantage enjoyed by the Democrats in any poll conducted during this span.

In fact, only three other polls since 2000 have measured a partisan advantage of even 1.6 to 1 in favor of the Democrats, and the average Democratic advantage has been 1.27 to 1 over this span.

Largest Democratic Party ID Advantage in Minnesota Public Polling, 2000-2009

Poll
Date
% Dem
% Rep
Ratio
Star Tribune
April 20-23, 2009
35.5
19.2
1.82
SurveyUSA
April 11-13, 2008
44
26
1.69
Star Tribune
August 20-24, 2000
37
22
1.68
SurveyUSA
June 8-10, 2007
42
26
1.62
SurveyUSA
November 8-11, 2006
42
27
1.56
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

The Star Tribune poll found 77 percent of Republicans and just 28 percent of Democrats approved of Pawlenty's job performance. As such, the heavy Democratic ID advantage in the survey was a significant factor in dragging down Pawlenty's approval rating to just below the 50 percent mark.

What this suggests is that either Governor Pawlenty is able to maintain a healthy 12-point net approval rating in the face of a decade low Republican Party ID in the Gopher State, or the poll's +/- 4.0 percentage point margin of error might be underestimating the actual number of self-identified Republicans statewide.

In either case, Pawlenty is still governing well north of the 'danger zone.'

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Previous post: Obama Approval Rating Holding Steady in Minnesota and Blue States, Still Dropping in Red States
Next post: Pawlenty Disapproval Rating Rises For 5th Straight Month in SurveyUSA Polling

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