Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"No Man Is A Hero To His Valet" - The Home State Voter Phenomenon In Presidential Politics

The meaning of the proverb in the title above, as applied to the topic of this piece, is that no politician is a hero to his constituents, because it is those voters that know him best. And public opinion polls have certainly bore this out. More on the proverb, here. Photo courtesy of John Wagner/Getty Images

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was wildly popular in his home state, according to a mid-2012 Quinnipiac University poll - to the tune of a 73/16% job approval rating. Despite all the local love, just 36% of registered New York voters wanted him to run for President in 2016, including only 44% in his own party. Thirty-nine percent of all voters did not want him to run. A second survey taken by Sienna College just after the 2012 Presidential election showed that while Cuomo's job approval rating had deteriorated to some degree, he remained quite popular. Yet still - New Yorkers weren't willing to jump on board for a 2016 run, opposing such a move by an even larger 49 - 39% margin. It seems as though Andrew has followed in his father, Mario's, footsteps in more ways than one. A 1990 CBS News Exit Poll found just 45% of New Yorkers felt the popular, 8 year governor would be a good President, while an equally large share felt he would not be.

This apparent disconnect between a politician's home-state popularity, and the desire of their constituents to see them ascend to the presidency, doesn't end with New York voters. Governor Christie is in the same boat, even after his approval ratings shot through the roof in the aftermath of his apparently competent handling of Hurricane Sandy. Take, for example, a May 2013 NBC/Marist poll that found his statewide approval at 69%, with just 24% disapproving. Regardless, less than half of the number that approved of his job performance wanted him to run for President (34%), while a solid majority preferred he not run (55%). A Quinnipiac Poll from one month earlier had similar findings. Christie was again wildly popular (sporting a 70/23% job approval rating), while a slight plurality of New Jersey registered voters (47%) preferred he NOT run for President in 2016. And a six-month old Harper Polling survey, taken well before "Bridgegate" became a part of our political lexicon, found only 34% of New Jersey voters wanted Christie to run for President, while 43% would rather he didn't; this, despite a strong 56/34% favorability rating.

What drives this aversion to higher office so often seen in voters who are generally supportive of their home-state politicians? Is it mere selfishness - do they feel their Senator, or Governor, has done such a great job, that they couldn't bare for him or her to leave? Or is it less hero-worship, and something more apathetic? Do they fear national embarrassment? Either way, the phenomenon has reared its head time and again with both 2012 and 2016 presidential primary nominees, and throughout history (at least based on the somewhat limited public data I was able to retrieve on the topic.)

Consider the table below, which compiles state-based polls on local support for home-state Senators or Governors running for an upcoming Presidential race in one chart. The far right column documents the politician's local job approval or favorability rating at the time of the poll (where the information is available). Entries highlighted in red indicate at least a plurality of state-voters were supportive of the particular candidate running for President.

* denotes favorability, not job approval rating. **asks to rate the Governor/Senator's job performance as excellent, good, fair, or poor.  ^Asks whether Pawlenty/Bachmann should run for POTUS, Sen, House, or No Office.
Isolating ourselves to only the 2016 cycle, there are numerous reasonably popular politicians whose home-state voters prefer they not run for President. Consider the case of a popular ex-Governor and current Senator of Virginia, Bob McDonnell and Mark Warner. Both could boast of high approval ratings back in 2012 (46/36% and 52/26%), but both also faced resistance from home state voters to the notion of a future presidential run (24/52% run/don't run vs. 34/39%). Former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul,  and Texas Senator Ted Cruz are all moderately popular politicians in their home states. But for whatever reason, their home state voters do not want to see them elevated to the White House.

And what about those politicians (or ex-politicians) that are looking towards 2016, who aren't popular in their home-state? The Rick Perrys, Sarah Palins, and Bobby Jindals of the world? Their constituents are near unanimous in their opposition to future presidential runs (with as many as 79% of Texans saying they'd rather Perry not seek the presidency in 2016, and 78% of Alaskans saying the same of Sarah Palin.).

This cycle repeated itself in the 2012 Presidential campaign process, the 2008 campaign, and in most occurrences I was able to locate with nothing more than Google - though I readily admit, the data becomes very sparse pre-2004. There are, however, three notable exceptions to the rule of home state voters opposing presidential bids by local politicians at all levels of popularity: Hillary Clinton in 2016, Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and George W. Bush in 2000. All three enjoyed not only immense popularity with home state voters (New Yorkers and Texans, respectively), but voters in both states were open to the idea of them moving to D.C.. Though still, as popular as they were, the margin of voters that wanted them to seek the presidency was never all that significantly larger than the number who did not want them to run.

In the end, what this tells us is there's a fairly rare breed of statewide politician whose current or ex-constituents wants to see them run for the Presidency. And this appears to be true in many circumstances, regardless of your home-state popularity. But this hasn't stopped ambition before. Obviously, if politicians always listened to the pulse of voters in their home-state, we'd see a lot less presidential candidates than we see in reality.

Just a few more interesting tidbits from the data -
  • As gung-ho as New Yorkers are about a Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, they were less interested in her making such a jump in 2008, and even much less so in 2004. In both cycles, most New Yorkers preferred she not run.
  • While Hillary Clinton's presidential timber seems to have improved among New York voters since 2008, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani's has only diminished. During his brief flirtations with the Presidency in 2012, just 37% of New Yorkers wanted him to actually give it a go. Compare that to the 53% who wanted him to run in a January 2006 survey.
  • Data for 2012 could not be located, but Massachusetts voters were not too keen on their 2-year Governor running for President in 2008. A March 2005 poll found just 28% wanted Mitt Romney to seek the presidency, while 53% did not. But it might not necessarily be a partisan thing for Bay Staters - a November 2004 Suffolk University poll found voters weren't anywhere close to wanting to see recent presidential loser and home-state Senator John Kerry give another go at the White House in 2008. 
  • Though he ultimately ran for President on four occasions, Gov. George Wallace's Alabaman constituents were already over his political ambitions before his third run in 1972, at least according to a Montgomery Advertiser poll in 1971. Just 36% wanted to see him seek the presidency again, while 47% did not. 
  • UPDATE: Thanks to MSNBC reporter @BenjySarlin and LexisNexis, I was finally able to obtain some information on Illinois voters views towards an Obama run for the presidency, pre-2008 announcement. 25% supported the idea, 38% opposed it.

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