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Inside Tim Pawlenty's Uniquely Polarizing Job Approval Numbers

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Pawlenty one of only a few governors nationwide to notch both large pools of staunch supporters and detractors in his constituency; GOP governors overall enjoy 20-point higher net approval rating than Democratic counterparts

Though Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's job approval ratings have experienced the occasional peaks and dips over his nearly eight years in office that would be expected of any officeholder, they have largely remained moderately positive, in the low- to mid-50s, through the bulk of his tenure.

When the Rasmussen polling firm surveyed Minnesotans in late May shortly after the end of the state's brutal legislative session, Pawlenty seemed to emerge once again fairly unscathed, with 52 percent of Minnesotans strongly or somewhat approving of his job performance.

Pawlenty has been an increasingly polarizing figure in Minnesota politics over the last few years to be sure; but to be polarizing one has to cut a large swath of both adamant opponents and supporters across the electorate.

Pawlenty has both.

And this is the statistical curiosity inside Pawlenty's numbers, particularly when compared with the ratings other governors from across the nation are receiving from their residents.

Pawlenty is enjoying both the third largest percentage of residents who 'strongly disapprove' of his performance and the sixth highest percentage of those who 'strongly approve' of 30 governors tracked by Rasmussen within the last month.

Rasmussen has conducted surveys of likely voters measuring gubernatorial job approval rating across 30 states during the past month:

· 16 states with Democratic governors (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin).

· 13 states with Republican governors (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas).

· And Florida, whose governor Charlie Crist is a Republican-turned-independent.

To be sure, Pawlenty has his fair share of his detractors in the Gopher State - with 36 percent of residents 'strongly disapproving' of his job performance according to the latest Rasmussen survey - a higher negative rating than all but two governors in the 30-state sample, and higher than all 13 GOPers tracked by the polling firm during this span.

Only Democratic governors Bill Ritter of Colorado (43 percent 'strongly disapprove') and Jim Doyle of Wisconsin (41 percent) have lower ratings on this end of the scale. New Mexico Democratic governor Bill Richardson also has a 36 percent 'strongly disapprove' rating by residents of his state.

However, Governor Pawlenty also enjoys strong - though not as strong - support from nearly one quarter of the Gopher State. Pawlenty ranks sixth among the 30 governors with 22 percent of Minnesota residents 'strongly approving' of his job performance.

Only Republicans John Hoeven of North Dakota (52 percent), Jan Brewer of Arizona (29 percent), and Mitch Daniels of Indiana (23 percent) and Democrats Mike Beebe (27 percent) and Christine Gregoire of Washington (25 percent) rank higher on this measure.

The numbers of Pawlenty (and Gregoire) are decidedly aberrations among this batch of 30 governors. Here's why:

· Twelve governors have 'strongly disapprove' numbers at or above 30 percent. Of those, only Pawlenty (22 percent) and Gregoire (25 percent) have 'strongly approve' numbers above 18 percent, with the average such rating among the other 10 governors at just 12.9 percent. For example, 31 percent of Californians strongly disapprove of Arnold Swarzenegger's job performance, but only 8 percent strongly approve.

· Ten governors, meanwhile, have 'strongly approve' numbers at or above 20 percent. Of these, only Pawlenty (36 percent) and Gregoire (35 percent) have 'strongly disapprove' numbers above 21 percent. In fact, the average 'strongly disapprove' rating among these eight other governors is less than half that of Pawlenty, at just 16.3 percent.

Overall, Republican governors are faring much better than their Democratic counterparts: of the 12 governors tracked by Rasmussen during the past month with negative net approval ratings, 11 are Democrats:

David Paterson of New York (-41), Bill Ritter of Colorado (-23), Jim Doyle of Wisconsin (-16), Pat Quinn of Illinois (-15), Bill Richardson of New Mexico (-14), Ted Strickland of Ohio (-12), Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania (-11), Bev Perdue of North Carolina (-7), Ted Kulongoski of Oregon (-5), Christine Gregoire of Washington (-4), and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts (-2) are all in negative territory.

Arnold Swarzenegger of California (-42) is the only Republican governor in this group.

By contrast, eight of the top ranked 11 governors in the 30-state sample are Republicans: John Hoeven of North Dakota (+75), Sean Parnell of Alaska (+41), Jan Brewer of Arizona (+29), Mike Rounds of South Dakota (+27), Mitch Daniels of Indiana (+20), Bob Riley of Alabama (+15), Rick Perrry of Texas (+13), and Butch Otter of Idaho (+13).

Democrats Mike Beebe of Arkansas (+44) and Jay Nixon of Missouri (+24) plus independent Charlie Crist of Flordia (+23) also rank #2, #6, and #7 respectively.

All together, the 16 Democrats have a net approval rating of -3.5 points - more than 20 points lower than their Republican counterparts (+16.6).

And while Pawlenty is the third lowest rated Republican governor of those 13 tracked in the past month by Rasmussen, there is a pattern among those GOPers not enjoying double-digit net positive approval ratings: all are Republicans governing in blue states.

Republicans Jodi Rell of Connecticut (+8), Pawlenty (+6), Don Carcieri of Rhode Island (+1) and Swarzenegger of California (-42) each represent blue states, with each therefore battling a larger pool of innately hostile partisans on the other side of the political spectrum, which will more easily depress their net approval ratings.

But what is unique about Pawlenty is that he also has elevated 'strongly approve' ratings relative to these governors - somehow managing to win over a large pool of staunch supporters, an even larger pool of vehement detractors, and yet overall remain in positive territory among all Minnesotans.

This kind of fancy footwork is a political skill that could pay dividends on the governor's next campaign trail.

Net Approval Rating of 30 Governors in Rasmussen Polling

State
Governor
Party
Approve
Disapprove
Net
ND
John Hoeven
GOP
87
12
+75
AR
Mike Beebe
Dem
72
28
+44
AK
Sean Parnell
GOP
70
29
+41
AZ
Jan Brewer
GOP
64
35
+29
SD
Mike Rounds
GOP
62
35
+27
MO
Jay Nixon
Dem
61
37
+24
FL
Charlie Crist
Ind
60
37
+23
IN
Mitch Daniels
GOP
58
38
+20
AL
Bob Riley
GOP
57
42
+15
TX
Rick Perry
GOP
55
42
+13
ID
Butch Otter
GOP
55
42
+13
KS
Mark Parkinson
Dem
52
41
+11
GA
Sonny Perdue
GOP
54
44
+10
KY
Steve Beshear
Dem
53
43
+10
CT
Jodi Rell
GOP
53
45
+8
MN
Tim Pawlenty
GOP
52
46
+6
NH
John Lynch
Dem
51
47
+4
RI
Don Carcieri
GOP
49
48
+1
MA
Deval Patrick
Dem
48
50
-2
WA
Christine Gregoire
Dem
47
51
-4
OR
Ted Kulongoski
Dem
46
51
-5
NC
Bev Perdue
Dem
46
53
-7
PA
Ed Rendell
Dem
44
55
-11
OH
Ted Strickland
Dem
43
55
-12
NM
Bill Richardson
Dem
43
57
-14
IL
Pat Quinn
Dem
42
57
-15
WI
Jim Doyle
Dem
41
57
-16
MA
Bill Ritter
Dem
39
62
-23
NY
David Paterson
Dem
28
69
-41
CA
Arnold Swarzenegger
Dem
28
70
-42
Dem
47.3
50.8
-3.5
GOP
57.2
40.6
16.6
Polling data from Rasmussen surveys conducted between May 6 and June 7, 2010

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