If you’re a Democrat, there is almost no good news in the latest Morning Consult governor and senator approval rankings. They can take comfort that it looks like they’ll be taking back the governor’s office in Illinois and that Scott Walker looks like he’s in real trouble in Wisconsin. And it’s always nice to have it confirmed that Mitch McConnell is still the least popular senator in the country. Overall, however, the numbers are somewhere between disappointing to catastrophic.
I’ll provide you with the best and worst because that’s always interesting, but we will need to dig deeper than that.
Top 5 Senators
Bottom 5 Senators
Top 5 Governors
Bottom 5 Governors
I’ll begin by looking at the Senate. The two Republican senators from Arizona are among the least popular senators, but neither of them are running for reelection and both of them earned their poor numbers by being outspoken critics of President Trump. The Democrats will look at those numbers and think that they have a good chance to pick up both of those seats in the near future, but they’ll need to beat different candidates to accomplish that. The greater lesson, which will be noticed by all the Republican senators is that there is a heavy price for getting on the wrong side of President Trump.
You’ll also notice that the Democrats’ three most vulnerable senators are in bad shape and moving in the wrong direction. Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill are both ranked in the bottom five for approval. Manchin’s net approval dropped a whopping 17 points since the fourth quarter of last year, while Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota approval dropped nine points and McCaskill’s dropped five. Bill Nelson of Florida and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are still popular, but since the last survey, Nelson has lost eight points and Donnelly has lost four. The only good news is that Sen. Robert Menendez’s approval bounced back strongly after he won a mistrial in his corruption case and Jon Tester of Montana saw an astounding 16 point bump.
Needless to say, the Democrats cannot afford to lose any Senate seats if they want to take control of the chamber, but Manchin and McCaskill are looking very weak and Heitkamp is headed in the wrong direction. There’s nothing in the numbers to incentivize the Republicans in the Senate to break with Trump.
The situation with governors is far more alarming but the overall lesson seems to be at odds with the results from the Senate surveys. The most popular governors in America are Republicans, and most of those Republicans are serving in Deep Blue states with Democratic legislatures. Ground zero is New England, which should be the Democrats’ strongest area of strength. Three of the top five governors are Republicans from the region, while the two Democrats from New England are getting horrible numbers. Dan Malloy of Connecticut, who is thankfully not running for reelection, is the least popular governor in America. Gina Raimando of Rhode Island, who is running for reelection, is down 11 points since December and now stands at 39 percent approval to 50% disapproval. By comparison, embattled and indicted Republican Eric Greitens of Missouri has a 40 percent to 39 percent approval rating. Democrat-friendly independent Governor Bill Walker of Alaska is limping along with a 29 percent to 52 percent approval rating.
When you consider that Democrat John Bel Edwards of Louisiana has a healthy 50-31 rating, you begin to see a pattern. Americans in a lot of the country seem to like governors who have to serve with hostile legislatures, probably because it forces them to compromise. This isn’t a magic formula, as Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner can confirm, but it seems to the promising environment in which to govern if you want to be popular.
What should concern Democrats is that Trump’s toxicity is not rubbing off on Republican governors from Blue States and that almost all the Republican governors up for reelection next year have somewhere between solid and astronomical approval numbers.
As for Republicans, they’re getting mixed messages. On the one hand, the Senate numbers indicate that independence from Trump’s brand of politics is a losing proposition. But the governor numbers indicate that compromise governing is the surest way to gain popularity.
As we saw with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s decision to retire yesterday, the national GOP is in crisis mode. But, looking at these numbers, the Democrats should be in crisis mode, too. They need to figure out why they’re doing so well in House elections but they’re still looking at a real prospect of losing seats in the Senate and failing to translate an historically bad year for the Republicans into significant gains in the gubernatorial elections. Something is broken, and they need to figure out what it is.