Tim Pawlenty heads into his second term on the heels of a very narrow, plurality vote victory last month, and the prospects of having to work with a DFL-controlled state House for the first time in his administration, as well as a state Senate facing ever declining GOP representation. However, the Republican governor can still take solace in the fact that his job approval rating has remained fairly strong, and remarkably consistent throughout his first four years—especially when compared with that of his predecessor, IP Governor Jesse Ventura.
Pawlenty’s job approval ratings have largely hovered in the mid-50s throughout most of his tenure. For example, in eight Minnesota Polls conducted during Pawlenty’s term his rating has ranged only 11 percentage points—from a high of 60% (February 2003) to a low of 49% (September 2003). And in six polls since January 2004, Pawlenty’s rating has remained between 54 and 58 percent. The latest SurveyUSA poll (conducted in December 2006) likewise measures Pawlenty’s approval rating at 57%.
Jesse Ventura’s approval rating, on the other hand, was much more of a rollercoaster. In 16 Minnesota Polls conducted between January 1999 and December 2002, Ventura’s rating hit a high of 72% (in his first month of office, January 1999), and a low of 40% (in his last month, December 2002). However, Ventura’s descent was not continuous—after falling to 62% in June 2000, Ventura eclipsed 70% once again in August 2000 and then again as late as January 2001, two years after he took office. A majority, though declining number, of Minnesotans still approved of Ventura’s job performance through December 2001; it wasn’t until 2002, the last year of Ventura’s administration, that he began to experience approval ratings in the 40s.
Pawlenty’s personality and policy positions are not as controversial as his predecessor; nor are they therefore as likely to become water cooler topics. As a result, at first glance, it is not too surprising the Governor has avoided the kind of hot and cold approval of his constituency that Ventura endured. However, Pawlenty’s current strong ratings in a state that turned on Republicans with a passion in 2006 is rather remarkable, and a sign that the Governor has, to his credit, truly won over Minnesota centrists.