As noted yesterday, voters in a number of large states across the country have come down with a serious case of buyers’ remorse about Republican governors elected last fall. The unpopularity of this brand of hard-right state level politics is obviously an important element of American political life. And Jon Terbush at TPM goes so far as to think it will provide a substantial advantage to Barack Obama as he runs for election, citing Ohio, Florida, and Michigan as particular cases.
I have some serious doubts about this. My baseline view is simply that everything matters less for presidential elections than people would have you believe. The elections themselves are quite consequential, and so huge amounts of time are spent talking about them, but despite a lot of poll fluctuation the results are pretty predictable. So how much difference is a governor going to make? Polling from 2007 indicated that about a third of the population couldn’t even name their governor and elections tend to be swung by people with relatively low levels of political information. Meanwhile, I can’t off the top of my head think of any examples of this kind of “unpopular governor effect” swinging a state in a presidential election. Indeed, even though the electoral college ultimately makes state-by-state analysis decisive, there isn’t usually much to say about it. States outcomes tend to reflect a fairly uniform national swing.
Long story short, the unpopularity of new administrations in a number of states is a problem for those governors and the state legislators who back them. It’s a cautionary tale for state-level elected officials elsewhere. But I doubt it’ll have a serious impact on the 2012 presidential election.