Casting Doubt on Claim That Governors’ Unpopularity Will Help Obama

By Sean Cavanagh — July 11, 2011 1 min read
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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the lackluster approval ratings of a couple new Republican governors who have pushed for controversial reworkings of education policy, and questioned whether those low numbers would affect President Obama’s re-election bid.

But one prominent political scientist and commentator cast doubt on the idea that state governors’ woes will matter much at all in 2012.

Stuart Rothenberg, in a pair of columns in Roll Call, says that while it’s possible that the current woes of governors like Florida’s Rick Scott, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, and Ohio’s John Kasich could help Obama in those states, there isn’t much evidence of that happening in past presidential elections.

“We will all be focused on the primaries, the presidential hopefuls, the national economy and Obama, not on Scott, Kasich or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—none of whom will be on the ballot next year,” writes Rothenberg.

The election is far more likely to hinge on voters’ perceptions of the presidential candidates themselves, the media coverage and the issues that emerge as top priorities, like the economy, he argues.

One thing that’s hard to predict is the power of individual issues in different states. For instance, many teachers in Wisconsin and Ohio were enraged by Republican governors’ and legislatures’ moves to scale back collective bargaining powers and cut school spending. Obama was openly critical of Walker’s proposal to curb collective bargaining, saying the governor’s stance struck him as “an assault on unions.” His administration has called for policymakers to broker deals on education policy that are fair to labor.

Yet at the same time, some teachers and teachers’ groups have grown frustrated with Obama’s support for issues like merit pay and tying test scores to teacher evaluation, which they see as unproven and unfair.

Teachers continue to vent their anger over those policies, as they did at the recent National Education Association convention (though the NEA ultimately endorsed Obama). So for 2012, the question remains: Will teacher resentment over Walker’s and other Republican governors’ records on education issues motivate teachers to rally behind the incumbent president? Or will Obama’s education policies be judged independently of the controversy that has roiled those states in recent months?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.