The 45th SurveyUSA poll measuring Minnesotans’ approval of Tim Pawlenty’s job performance finds the Republican Governor back once again in familiar, positive territory.

Last month, for only the 6th time in 45 SurveyUSA polls, Pawlenty fell below the 50 percent mark at 48 percent. But in the latest poll, conducted of 600 Gopher State residents from March 20-22, the Governor’s approval rating now stands at 51 percent, with 46 percent disapproving.

Although the Governor remains more popular than not, critics will undoubtedly point to Pawlenty’s steadily increasing negative numbers as a warning sign for the Governor.

True, the Governor’s disapproval numbers have narrowly increased in each of the last four cycles of SurveyUSA polling – from 38 percent in November, to 39 percent in December, to 41 percent in January, to 44 percent in February, to 46 percent in March.

However, the modest scale of these rising negative numbers, in a time of economic crisis in the Gopher State, reveals less about Pawlenty’s perceived shrinking political capital, and more about the strong foundation of his support statewide.

How is this so?

Consider the numbers facing many of Pawlenty’s fellow governors from around the country (all from SurveyUSA’s March polling):

· Democratic Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s approval rating has slid to an all-time low of 32 percent – only the second time he’s fallen below the 40 percent mark since May 2005 in SurveyUSA polling.

· California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is enduring approval ratings (26 percent) that are less than half of what they were in December 2007 (55 percent).

· Once exceedingly popular Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebalius of Kansas now faces her highest disapproval rating (41 percent) in 45 SurveyUSA polls conducted since May 2005.

· Democratic Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s approval rating (27 percent) is approximately half of what it was just three months ago in December 2008 (53 percent).

· Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s disapproval rating (54 percent) is at an all time high across the nearly four dozen polls conducted by SurveyUSA since May 2005.

· Democratic New York Governor David Patterson’s approval rating (24 percent) is now less than half of what it was just two months ago in January (54 percent).

· Alabama’s Republican Governor Bob Riley currently faces an approval rating below the 60 percent mark (57 percent) for the first time since December 2006, and is his lowest rating since October 2006.

· Democratic Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski is suffering through approval ratings at their lowest mark (37 percent) since September 2006 (36 percent).

· Democratic Washington Governor Christine Gregoire now faces her lowest approval rating (36 percent) since May 2005 (34 percent).

In fact, Pawlenty is one of only three Governors in the 14 states polled by SurveyUSA who currently has an approval rating in excess of the vote received during the state’s last gubernatorial election. And only Virginia’s Democratic Governor Tim Kaine (+5) has a higher net favorability rating vis-à-vis vote percentage than Pawlenty (+4). The average gubernatorial job performance rating across the more than one dozen states polled is 11+ points south of the average election vote tally.

Gubernatorial Vote Vis-à-vis Job Performance Ratings

State
Governor
Year
Vote
Approval
Difference
VA
Tim Kaine
2005
52
57
+5
MN
Tim Pawlenty
2006
47
51
+4
MO
Jay Nixon
2008
58
60
+2
AL
Bob Riley
2006
57
57
0
KS
Kathleen Sebelius
2006
58
55
-3
IA
Chet Culver
2006
54
46
-8
KY
Steve Beshear
2007
59
49
-10
OR
Ted Kulongoski
2006
51
37
-14
WA
Christine Gregoire
2008
53
36
-17
WI
Jim Doyle
2006
53
32
-21
NM
Bill Richardson
2006
69
42
-27
MA
Deval Patrick
2006
56
27
-29
CA
Arnold Schwarzenegger
2006
56
26
-30
NY
David Paterson
N/A
N/A
24
N/A
 
Average
 
55.6
42.8
-11.4

Note: Compiled by Smart Politics. Polling data from SurveyUSA.

When viewed in this broader context, the stability and strength of Governor Pawlenty’s approval rating is quite remarkable, considering he is presiding over record increases in unemployment and a budget battle with a strong DFL caucus.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.