A lot of Governor's offices seem likely to change hands this fall and a big reason for that is the current occupants of them are pretty unpopular. When voters don't like the outgoing Governor they're not likely to choose a replacement of the same party and that dynamic is affecting a lot of the key races across the country.
Since last fall PPP has polled on the approval numbers of 12 Governors not seeking reelection this year. 10 of the 12 had approval ratings under 40% and there's a very good chance of at least 8 of those changing hands this fall.
First of all credit to the two Governors leaving office we've polled on whose numbers aren't in the dump: Jodi Rell of Connecticut and Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Here's how the other ones break down:
Unpopular Governors Whose Parties Will Probably Hold Serve Anyway:
-Alabama. Our late March poll of the state found Bob Riley with a pretty weak 36/50 approval spread. The general election has the potential to be competitive and we'll probably know a lot more once the Republicans choose their nominee tomorrow but Alabama still doesn't seem like a good opportunity for a Democratic pickup in this climate.
-South Carolina. Mark Sanford's approval rating is a dreadful 33/56 but that has more to do with his personal foibles than real unhappiness with the direction of the state and Nikki Haley looks like a strong favorite for the fall, although there's some potential for a close race.
Unpopular Governors Whose Parties Are Favored To Lose Their Seats:
-Michigan. Jennifer Granholm is one of the least popular Governors in the country at a 29/61 approval spread and while it's not clear what the match up for her office will end up being this fall it's pretty clear whoever the Republican nominee is will start out as the favorite.
-Pennsylvania. Ed Rendell's sitting at a 35/53 approval rating and Tom Corbett pretty universally has a lead around 10 points in polling for the general election so far.
-Wisconsin. Jim Doyle's at 28/59 and Scott Walker's up 7-8 points on Tom Barrett although there's some potential the race could shift once it gets into the general reelection.
Unpopular Governors Whose Seats Look Competitive
-California. Arnold Schwarzenegger's the least popular Governor in the country, at least that we've polled on, at 20/64. Jerry Brown has led in most recent surveys of the state by small margins, although we had him up by more on our late May poll of the race.
-Colorado. Democrat John Hickenlooper is one of the party's strongest candidates in the country while Republican Scott McInnis is pretty eh. Nevertheless the race is tied at 44 and Democrats' trouble in holding it is not helped by the 34/52 approval of outgoing office holder Bill Ritter.
-Georgia. Polling generally shows a tossup for Governor between Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican John Oxendine. You wouldn't expect Democrats to have much of a chance in a place like Georgia in this political climate but our polling there in late February found Sonny Perdue's approval at 29/52.
-Maine. Last fall we found Governor John Baldacci with a 25/57 approval rating and the only poll of the general election so far, by Rasmussen, showed Republican Paul LePage ahead 43-36. That would seem to suggest Republicans have a good opportunity here.
-New Mexico. The state's been trending Democratic of late, including a resounding victory for Barack Obama in 2008. But this year's Governor's race looks like a tossup, and I'm sure Bill Richardson's 28/63 approval number is not doing Diane Denish any favors.
Obviously the approval numbers of the outgoing Governor are not the only things steering the direction of these races, but an unpopular incumbent can certainly be a big burden on the back of their party's nominee.