The Polls: Polarized Opinion in the States: Partisan Differences in Approval Ratings of Governors, Senators, and George W. Bush


Gary C. Jacobson is professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, where he has taught since 1979. He received his A.B. from Stanford University in 1966 and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1972. He specializes in the study of U.S. elections, parties, interest groups, and Congress. He is the author of Money in Congressional Elections, The Politics of Congressional Elections, and The Electoral Origins of Divided Government and coauthor of Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections and The Logic of American Politics. His most recent book is A Divider, Not a Uniter: George W. Bush and the American People.


George W. Bush has provoked the widest partisan differences in job approval ratings of any president since surveys first began asking the question more than seventy years ago. A new set of state-level surveys conducted by SurveyUSA allows comparison of partisan differences at the state level in approval of the president, each of the senators, and the governor. The data show that Bush is a uniquely polarizing figure, that partisan differences in approval ratings of senators and governors are far more varied than those of the president, and that different sets of variables account for approval ratings by partisans for the different offices. For senators, polarization is greater for more extreme ideologues, national leaders, senators from more populous states, and women. Governors from smaller states, from states where the partisan balance favors the other party, and who are not national figures are the least polarizing. Polarized partisan evaluation of elected leaders is not a systematic feature of contemporary American politics but rather depends on the positions they take, the agendas they pursue, and the context in which they operate.