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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley September 3, 2008

She wins popularity contest

In a press release responding to a story in the National Enquirer, the McCain campaign declared that "Governor Palin is the most popular governor in the country."

It's a line that has clearly become a campaign talking point — repeated by staffers and supporters alike such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

If the limit of your interest on this issue is whether it's true that Palin is an extremely popular governor in Alaska, we'll save you some time: the answer is an unqualified yes.

But we wanted to find out if she is the most popular, as the McCain campaign said. That's a more complicated — and ultimately squishy — issue.

You won't find a poll that on one day asked a large sample of residents in every state to rate their governor.

What you have is a hodgepodge of polls taken on different days in different states, often asking people different versions of whether they like their governor. For example, you might have one poll asking simply whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the governor; and another that asks you to rate the guv's performance as excellent, good, fair or poor. It'd be unfair to compare those head-to-head.

And not to make your head hurt, but there's a difference between personal approval ratings and job approval ratings. Bill Clinton, for example, had high job approval ratings but low personal approval ratings.

So what do we know about Palin's approval ratings among Alaskans? They are remarkably high.

A May 2007 poll taken by Ivan Moore Research in Alaska put Palin's positive rating at 89 percent. That's off the charts high. But Moore's survey wasn't a traditional approval rating or job performance measure. Rather, respondents were asked to rate their feelings toward public figures as very or somewhat positive or very or somewhat negative. The verys and somewhats were then combined.

A poll two weeks before that one, from Dittman Research, gave Palin a 93 percent approval rating.

The Moore poll numbers hit a low of 76 percent in mid July — in the midst of "Troopergate" coverage — but bounced back to 80 percent in mid August. That mirrored a Hays Research Group poll on July 24 and 25 in which 80 percent rated Palin's performance as somewhat or very favorable.

Moore hasn't polled similar questions in other states, so he wouldn't say categorically that Palin's are the highest in the country. "But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know 89 percent is going to be at the top of the list," Moore said.

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On Sept. 3, the McCain campaign released results of an American Viewpoint poll on Sept. 2 — after the announcement of Palin as McCain's running mate — that found Palin had an 86 percent overall job approval rating. That was a poll commissioned by the McCain campaign, so take that for what it's worth.

Again, these are extraordinarily high numbers by any measure. But according to Rasmussen polls, Palin gave up her crown as "most popular" in July, overtaken by North Dakota's Gov. John Hoeven.

A Rasmussen poll on July 30 found 64% of voters rate Palin's job performance as excellent or good versus 14% who view it as poor. On July 8, Hoeven clocked 72 percent at excellent or good against just 6 percent who rated his performance as poor.

Scott Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Rasmussen Reports, said people shouldn't get hung up on whether someone ranked No. 1 or 2. Those numbers change with the political winds of the day.

"In a broader sense, she (Palin) is one of the very top," Rasmussen said.

The polling firm SurveyUSA has in the past conducted governor's approval ratings in all 50 states, but not since Palin took office.

In 2006, the highest ratings were around 80 percent.

The ratings being reported in Alaska for Palin are "extraordinarily high," said Jay Leve, editor of SurveyUSA. "Those kinds of numbers are unprecedented."

And based on the previous highs for approval ratings, he said, it's highly likely Palin is now top dog.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report, and John McIntyre, managing editor at Real Clear Politics — two groups that pay close attention to such things — also believe Palin's numbers rank her as the most popular.

"It's difficult to make a categorical statement like that," McIntyre said. "But generally, they are on pretty solid ground. If I was a betting person, I bet that's an accurate statement. Once your approval rating is over 80 percent, it's a little silly."

Bottom line, most experts say the McCain campaign is probably right. We rate it True.


Our Sources

Hays Research Group, "Alaska Statewide 'Opinion Counts' Survey Results" Survey conducted July 24 - July 25, 2008

Rasmussen Reports, "Election 2008: Alaska Senate" July 31, 2008

Rasmussen Reports, "Alaska: McCain 48% Obama 43%" April 10, 2008

SurveyUSA, "Approval ratings for all 50 governors as of 02/14/06", "Does Sarah Palin Have an 80% Approval Rating?" by Josh Goodman, Sept. 3, 2008

Rasmussen Reports, "Governors' Approval Ratings"

Rasmussen Reports, "Sarah Palin: Unknown Nationally, Popular in Alaska" Aug. 29, 2008

Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska's governor tops the approval rating charts" by Sabra Ayres, May 30, 2007

Anchorage Daily News, "Public Opinion Survey, Ivan Moore Research"

Interview with Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report, Sept. 3, 2008

Interview with John McIntyre, managing editor at Real Clear Politics, Sept. 3, 2008

Interview with Ivan Moore of Ivan Moore Research, Sept. 3, 2008

Interview with Scott Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Rasmussen Reports, Sept. 3, 2008

Interview with Jay Leve, editor of SurveyUSA, Sept. 3, 2008


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