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Relative Unemployment and Gubernatorial Popularity


Jeffrey E. Cohen is professor of political science, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458-9993, ( James D. King is professor of political science, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071-3197, (


Considerable debate exists over whether the public holds the governor accountable for the state's economy. Part of the controversy stems from weak design and limitations in data, but part also from weakness in theory. We argue that voters recognize the limitations of state governments to affect the state economy and that they judge their governors on the state's unemployment situation relative to the unemployment situation of the national economy. To test this theory we use the Official State Job Approval Ratings (JAR) database. Our analysis finds that citizens grade the governor's job performance consistent with our theory: no matter the level of unemployment in the state, when state unemployment is lower than the national average, governors are rewarded; when it is higher than the national average, governors are punished with lower approval levels.