A couple years ago, upon the selection of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential nominee, I made some graphs of the popularity of governors of different-sized states:
As I wrote at the time:
It seems to be easier to maintain high approval in a small state. What’s going on? Some theories: in a large state, there will be more ambitious politicians on the other side, eager to knock off the incumbent governor; small states often have part-time legislatures and thus the governor is involved in less political conflict; small states (notably Alaska) tend to get more funds per capita from the federal government, and it’s easier to be popular when you can disburse more funds; large states tend to be more heterogeneous and so it’s harder to keep all the voters happy.
I was curious how things have been going more recently, and Hanfei made an updated graph using data from this archive. Here’s the story:
There’s lots of variation–clearly there are many other factors than state population that predict governors’ popularity–but we continue to see more the more popular governors in smaller states.
The problem also calls out for some regression analysis to compare for factors other than state size. We haven’t done a lot here, but we did regress governors’ approval on two variables:
– log (state population),
– percent change in average personal income in the state in the past year.
Here’s what we found:
> display (lm (popularity ~ c.log.statepop + c.income.change))
(Intercept) 48.57 2.15
c.log.statepop -6.10 2.26
c.income.change 2.44 1.68
According to these results, governors of large states are still less popular than governors of small states, on average, even after controlling for recent economic performance. (We also tried a regression including the interaction of these two predictors, but I won’t bother showing it: the coefficient of the interaction was small and the other coefficients were essentially unchanged.) It’s possible that we didn’t use the best economic variables, but, for now, I’d say that the evidence is pretty clear that it’s tougher being a governor of a large state.