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Brown: Gubernatorial approval and strategic entry in the 2006 elections

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Brown, Adam R. 2007. Gubernatorial approval and strategic entry in the 2006 elections. Prepared for the 65th Midwest Political Science Association national conference, held in Chicago, Illinois, April 12-15.

In Brief

This paper makes two contributions. First, it presents an argument about the importance of candidate quality in gubernatorial elections. Second, it presents an appendix with a detailed review of SurveyUSA's survey methodology.

Place in the Literature

Jacobson and Kernell (1983) showed years ago that challenger quality has a decisive influence on Congressional elections. Though Leal (2006) and Squire (1992) have previously applied this insight to gubernatorial elections--with conflicting conclusions--Brown identifies a few shortcomings in each study.

For other accounts of gubernatorial elections, see also Carsey and Wright (1998), Chubb (1988), and Peltzman (1987).

Main Argument

Although previous work has shown that candidate quality and strategic donors mediate Congressional election results, this insight has had little treatment in the literature on gubernatorial approval and elections. Rather than examine challengers and donors, most studies have attributed gubernatorial election outcomes entirely to voter behavior, which has the misleading implication that the variables driving election results also determine gubernatorial job approval ratings. This paper presents a new model of gubernatorial elections, paying special attention to how potential challengers in 2006 responded strategically to January's gubernatorial approval ratings.

Empirical Evidence

The author uses a straightforward measure of candidate quality: The highest percentage of the state that the challenger had ever represented in an elected office. As it turns out, early (January) gubernatorial approval ratings predict with great precision the quality of the challenger that the incumbent eventually faced. Unpopular governors faced very strong challengers; popular ones faced weak ones. Moreover, given the anti-Republican national sentiment in 2006, Democratic governors attracted weaker challengers overall.


This study employs SurveyUSA's monthly series of gubernatorial approval ratings. Although this series presents unprecedented opportunities to analyze state-level public opinion, critics have claimed that SurveyUSA's methodology should make us suspicious about its data. Brown points out that critics have not actually demonstrated flaws in SurveyUSA's data, they have merely raised concerns about its method. After comparing SurveyUSA's data with other accepted data sources and with actual election results, Brown concludes that SurveyUSA's data appear to be perfectly valid.