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Chris Christie Is Still More Popular Than Governors Who Were Literally Criminals

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to be taking the Thelma and Louise route out of office. Except instead of throwing a car off a cliff, Christie is taking New Jersey residents for a ride.

Over the weekend, the New Jersey government was shut down because of a budget impasse and Christie got caught on camera sunbathing at a public beach that was closed by that shutdown. His job approval rating was already just 15 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Which makes me wonder: Is Christie trying to be the most unpopular governor in recorded history?

He’s not there yet. Based on my analysis of every governor’s lowest poll since 1958, Christie currently ranks fourth1 on the list of most unpopular governors in the modern era.2

Chris Christie is one of the most unpopular governors ever

Percentage of a state’s residents or voters who approved of the job the governor was doing, according to the lowest poll during his tenure

YEAR GOVERNOR STATE POLLSTER APPROVE/FAVORABLE
2005 Bob Taft Ohio Zogby Interactive 7%
2008 Rod Blagojevich Illinois Glengariff Group 8
2006 Frank Murkowski Alaska SurveyUSA 14
2017 Chris Christie New Jersey Quinnipiac U. 15
1990 Edward DiPrete Rhode Island Brown U. 16

Includes approval and favorability polls.

(There isn’t a complete data archive of governors’ approval ratings, as there is for presidential approval. The list I used was based on one put together by political scientists Richard Niemi, Thad Beyle and Lee Sigelman, which was current through 2010. I’ve added to it since then when there have been governors who have been plagued by scandal or faced particularly low ratings for other reasons. If you see someone missing on this list send me an email.)

My guess is that Christie probably isn’t going to be the most unpopular governor ever. To do so, he’d need his approval rating to drop my more than half. Single-digit approval ratings are generally reserved for those who were charged or convicted of a crime while in office.

In 2005, Ohio’s governor, Bob Taft, was convicted of misdemeanor ethics charges after failing to report gifts including free golf outings. Taft hit a 7 percent favorable rating in a Zogby Interactive poll3 that year. Taft’s low approval rating helped contribute to a Democratic wave in Ohio during the 2006 midterm elections.

You might also remember convicted felon and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His 8 percent approval rating in a Glengariff Group poll came in the midst of his pay-for-play scandal, in which he tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after Obama ascended to the presidency. Blagojevich was removed from office by the Illinois state legislature, went on to lose on the Celebrity Apprentice and was sent to prison for trying to sell the Senate seat, among other corruption charges.

Christie might have a better shot at becoming the third least-popular governor. He is just one point behind former Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski. Murkowski was unpopular in large part because he appointed his own daughter Lisa to his seat upon becoming governor in 2003. That move angered Alaskans and led to him coming in third behind former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin in his own party’s primary for governor in 2006.

The bottom line is that Christie is in very undistinguished company. Christie is disliked by Democrats and Republicans alike. And that dislike has made it very likely that New Jersey will have a Democratic governor come next year.

Footnotes

  1. Not included in this list is former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez who registered a 12 percent approval rating during budget negotiations with state Democrats in 1987. I could not confirm the wording of the approval question.

  2. We’re looking only at polls that ask respondents either whether they approve or disapprove of the governor’s job performance, or whether they have a favorable or unfavorable view of the governor. If the option of “neutral” was explicitly given to respondents, the poll was not included in this list.

  3. Zogby Interactive isn’t a very accurate pollster, but Taft also hit 10 percent in a YouGov survey in 2006. In the linked story, pollster John Zogby mentions former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s approval rating once hit 7 percent, but I could find no corroborating evidence of that poll or what type of question was asked. Ryan was eventually sentenced to jail on a slew of charges stemming from his time in office.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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