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MacDonald and Sigelman: Public assessments of gubernatorial performance

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Understanding
State Politics

MacDonald and Sigelman. 1999. Public assessments of gubernatorial performance: A comparative state analysis. American Politics Quarterly 27 (April): 201-215.

In Brief

Using a cross-sectional survey of governors' approval ratings in all 50 states, the authors seek to address seven hypotheses. Previous research has focused on gubernatorial elections in testing hypotheses about gubernatorial popularity; by looking outside of the campaign context, the authors seek to test these theories further.

Seven Hypotheses

Partisan leanings

  • Concept: Did a Republican state elect a Democrat for governor? If so, expect the governor to have a difficult time maintaining approval. Inspired by a discussion in Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes (1960).
  • Measurement: Measured by subtracting the percent of Democrat self-identifiers from Republican self-identifiers; make this result positive if the majority identifies with the governor's party, negative otherwise.
  • Finding: Insignificant.

Retail Politics

  • Concept: In more populous states, expect politicians to have difficulty maintaining close ties with their constituencies--so job approval will be lower, on average. Inspired by Davidson and Oleszek (1994) and Binder, Maltzman, and Sigelman.
  • Measurement: State's population.
  • Finding: Insignificant.

Social and Cultural Diversity

  • Concept: In diverse states, the governor will have difficulty appeasing everybody.
  • Measurement: An index variable from Morgan and Wilson (1990).
  • Finding: Insignificant.

Ideological Diversity

  • Concept: Essentially the same argument.
  • Measurement: Uses a measure of the deviations from liberal-conservative measurements. A bit complex.
  • Finding: Insignificant.

Tax Increases

  • Concept: Citizens punish politicians for presiding over tax increases. This is especially true during an election year, when challengers will point out the governor's support for tax increases. Inspired by Niemi et al (1995).
  • Measurement: The number of tax increases during the governor's term divided by the length of his time in office.
  • Finding: Marginally significant when interacted with a dummy indicating that a campaign was in progress.

State Economic Performance

  • Concept: When the state economy is strong, the governor will be more popular; see Niemi et al (1995) and others for support. This effect will be strongest during election years.
  • Measurement: Change in per capita disposable income over the preceding year.
  • Finding: Insignificant.

Institutional Power

  • Concept: More powerful governors can exert more influence on policy, and will therefore be more powerful. Like the previous two variables, this also will be stronger during election years. Inspired by Tufte (1978).
  • Measurement: A index of gubernatorial power from Beyle (1996).
  • Finding: Marginally significant when interacted with a dummy indicating that a campaign was in progress.

Comments and Criticism

Some of the arguments seemed ad hoc, particularly the socioeconomic diversity argument. And why do they expect only some of the variables to have a more pronounced effect during election years?