Political pundits have a message for Governor Charlie Baker: You’ve accomplished something remarkable. Now, enjoy it while it lasts.
After just over 100 days in office, he may well be the most popular governor in the United States with stratospheric 74 percent favorable and 70 percent job approval ratings, according to a recent Suffolk University poll.
It is an extraordinary achievement for a Republican in a state that traditionally votes Democratic; for a man who more often speaks in bureaucratese than lofty, inspiring rhetoric; and for a tenure that has, so far, been overshadowed by a near-apocalyptic snowfall that seems to have soured residents on much else in Massachusetts.
Still, observers expect his popularity, like that of many elected officials, to eventually drift downward, as he is swept into the inevitable chaos of governing.
The numbers “are artificially high and should be hurtling down toward earth any month now,” said longtime national Democratic pollster Mark S. Mellman.
Nevertheless, for now, Baker is “certainly one of the most popular” governors in the country, he said.
Mellman also noted the poll also found only 39 percent graded Baker’s performance during his first 100 days as above average; about half thought it was just average.
Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a firm that polls widely across the country and often works for Democratic or liberal groups, said he can’t think of any governors in the United States who have Baker’s kind of job approval numbers now and can only recall a handful that have ever reached those heights.
“Even for someone in their honeymoon period, that’s a pretty astonishing approval rating,” he said.
In polling he has conducted, Jensen said only governors of small, more politically homogenous states such as Nebraska, Wyoming, and Arkansas, have garnered 70 percent job approval ratings.
In a place such as Massachusetts, he said, the only way to get those numbers is to have a “substantial number of Democrats and independents like you. And that is so rare these days. I can’t think of any governor who has been able to get such high approval with the opposite party.”
Still, he said, numbers like that do not last forever, and Baker’s star would eventually settle lower in the sky. Jensen also noted Baker stacks up very well to some GOP governors in traditionally blue states.
Governor Bruce Rauner, Republican of Illinois, who took office in January, had just-under-37 percent job approval rating, according to a poll released last month from Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
Only 38 percent of New Jersey voters approve of the job Governor Chris Christie is doing, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
Baker-esque numbers are uncommon among Democrats too. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s job approval rating, for instance, was at 50 percent, according to a survey released last month.
At this point in his tenure, Governor Deval Patrick wasn’t flying nearly as high as his successor. A 7NEWS/Suffolk University poll of voters released in April 2007 found just over half saw him favorably and only 42 percent approved of the job he was doing as governor.
So what’s behind Baker’s tip-top numbers? Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has worked for Bill Clinton and other Democrats, said, as far as she has seen, Baker’s numbers definitely make him one of the most popular governors “by far.”
Lake said he has benefited from being “very nonpartisan,” being “very likable, and very positive,” and from not having any big controversies.
There is a precedent for a GOP governor staying in the good graces of the Commonwealth: William F. Weld won landslide reelection in 1994.
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center and the pollster who conducted the new survey, said Baker has been helped by having no major screw-ups, “voters seeing him in control” as he managed the storms, and being in the news media a lot.
He added Baker was also boosted by tackling a massive state budget shortfall and dealing with the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The Suffolk survey of 500 registered Massachusetts voters found 74 percent had a generally favorable opinion of him while only 8 percent had a generally unfavorable opinion. And 70 percent approved of the job he is doing as governor, while only 6 percent disapproved.
The nonpartisan poll surveyed the voters via landline and cellphone from April 16-21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Brad Todd, a national Republican consultant, said the poll numbers prove the state “was hungry for a significant shift after Deval Patrick.”
But he said a lingering question is whether Baker decides to maintain popularity as a goal or use that popularity for pressing policy objectives.
“Many times, reform is difficult and has some negative consequences in the short term,” Todd said. “And during that short-term, the governor often gets blamed.”
But, for now, Baker is well-liked and seen as a strong governor.
So might he use these numbers to make a jaunt north of the Massachusetts border and dip his toes in the waters of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state? Might he set his sights on a White House bid?
“No,” Baker said this week. “I am never running for president.”