For the first time in more than two years, a Democrat was named one of the 10 most popular governors in the country.
Gov. David Ige of Hawaii came in at No. 10 in the latest edition of Morning Consult’s quarterly Governor Approval Rankings -- based on 416,841 surveys with registered voters across the country conducted Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2018. (See methodology here.)
That makes him the first Democrat to place in the upper-most echelon since 2016, when Govs. Steve Bullock of Montana, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jack Markell of Delaware all made the list.
Fifty-four percent of registered voters in the Aloha State approved of Ige’s job performance in the fourth quarter, compared with 33 percent who disapproved. The latest results cap a volatile year for him that began with an erroneous missile alert warning on Jan. 13, 2018, that alarmed constituents and helped lead to a 20 percentage-point decline in net approval from the end of 2017.
That was enough to drop him into the bottom 10 in the first quarter of last year, with 37 percent of Hawaiian voters approving and 49 percent disapproving. (Net approval is the share of voters who approve of a governor minus the share of voters who disapprove. Approval and disapproval figures are rounded.)
Ige’s latest numbers represent a net swing of 34 points since the first quarter of the year, the biggest uptick of any governor in the country recorded among their constituents in 2018.
The GOP held its grip on the rest of the top 10, with Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts (72 percent approval), Larry Hogan of Maryland (68 percent), Kay Ivey of Alabama (63 percent) and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire (60 percent) -- each of whom was comfortably re-elected in November -- checking in at Nos. 1-4 for the third quarter in a row.
Matt Mead of Wyoming and Phil Scott of Vermont came back into the top 10, placing fifth and sixth, respectively, after missing out in the third quarter. Scott’s surge of 20 points in net approval was the best improvement recorded between the third and fourth quarters. Govs. Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Greg Abbott of Texas rounded out the GOP representatives in the seventh, eighth and ninth slots.
The bottom 10 of the rankings consisted mostly of governors who were set for the exits this month, including the five least popular: Republican Mary Fallin of Oklahoma (72 percent disapproval), Democrat Dan Malloy of Connecticut (69 percent), Republican Bruce Rauner of Illinois (60 percent), Republican Paul LePage of Maine (54 percent) and independent Bill Walker of Alaska (51 percent).
Also set to leave office this month were the seventh- through ninth-least popular governors: Republicans Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Susana Martinez of New Mexico.
The two other names in the bottom 10 of the rankings find themselves in very different positions. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.) just won re-election in November, easing the pain of a 49 percent disapproval rating among voters in her state, but Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky may have a problem: A slim majority (51 percent) of Kentucky voters disapproved of the Republican, who is up for re-election this year.
It’s not all bad news for Bevin, however, as the data shows him making some progress since earlier in the year. His latest net approval of minus 17 points is an 8-point improvement from his third-quarter figures, when 30 percent approved and 55 percent did not.
Bel Edwards 2019 outlook
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana is the lone red-state Democrat up for re-election this year, and his approval inched up a net 6 points since the third quarter.
He ended 2018 with about half (49 percent) of Bayou State voters -- including 67 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of independents and 38 percent of Republicans -- approving of his job performance. Three in 10 voters disapproved of Edwards, including 47 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of independents.
Potential 2020 contenders
Four governors on the list are considered potential candidates for the 2020 presidential election, and all of them finished the year in reasonably good standing.
Term-limited Republican John Kasich of Ohio has generated the most buzz during the past few years, serving as a consistent critic of President Donald Trump since the two locked horns during the crowded primary of the 2016 election.
While Kasich admitted last month he’d likely fare poorly in a Republican primary against the president, he hasn’t ruled out mounting an independent bid, and the last Morning Consult survey of his tenure in office reveals a relatively even level of support among his constituents of different partisan persuasions.
Forty-eight percent approved of his job performance, including 53 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents. Kasich had a disapproval rating of 32 percent, which included 34 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents.
Three Democrats -- John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Jay Inslee of Washington and Bullock of Montana have also been discussed as potential contenders to what is expected to be a very crowded nomination contest for the left.
Of that trio, it was Bullock, term-limited to 2020, who posted the best numbers of the quarter, with 52 percent of Montana voters approving of him and 29 percent disapproving. Hickenlooper, who left office this week, was next: 49 percent of Colorado voters approved of his job performance versus 30 percent who did not.
Inslee was comparatively less popular among voters in his state. Forty-four percent of Washington voters approved of the former federal lawmaker and 32 percent did not.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Inslee's eligibility for Washington's gubernatorial nomination.