A (former) Alaskan’s view of Sarah Palin

Ubs writes that the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is extremely popular in her home state of Alaska because of her bipartisan competence. I think Ubs has some interesting things to say, both about Alaska politics and about competence and ideology in general. But I think he may be overinterpreting the poll data on her popularity.

I’ll copy over some of Ubs’s words and then give my thoughts:

Ubs says:

Holy crap, he actually did pick her! I’ve had a long, half-composed Sarah Palin post in the back of my mind since about May, when I first saw her mentioned as a running-mate candidate. . . . My initial reaction was that this tells me McCain doesn’t expect to win. . . . But then I have to pause … because my own opinion, in fact, is that Palin would probably be a pretty good president. . . .

The most interesting part of that formula — and unfortunately the part we’ll probably hear the least about — is “popular governor” part. Sarah Palin is not just popular. She is fantastically popular. Her percentage approval ratings have reached the 90s. Even now, with a minor nepotism scandal going on, she’s still about 80%. . . . How does one do that? You might get 60% or 70% who are rabidly enthusiastic in their love and support, but you’re also going to get a solid core of opposition who hate you with nearly as much passion. The way you get to 90% is by being boringly competent while remaining inoffensive to people all across the political spectrum.

Bipartisanship is a perpetual topic in political punditry, but it is distorted by the media environment. Due to the nature of what makes a story, the news media thrives on partisanship. Everything is viewed through partisan-colored glasses. , , , The real significance of Gov Palin’s success and her phenomenal approval ratings is that they demonstrate her genuine talent as a non-partisan.

Ubs gives a long discussion of Alaska’s unique politics and then writes:

Palin’s magic formula for success has been simply been to ignore partisan crap and get down to the boring business of fixing up a broken government. . . . It’s not a very exciting answer, but it is, I think, why she gets high approval ratings — because all the Democrats, Libertarians, and centrists appreciate that she’s doing a good job on the boring non-partisan stuff that everyone agrees on and she isn’t pissing them off by doing anything on the partisan stuff where they disagree.

Because politics is only news when there is conflict, the political narrative focuses exclusively on those issues where there is disagreement. . . . Politicians are judged by where they stand on these partisan issues. Those who don’t consistently fall on one side or the other (eg, Lieberman, Hagel) are newsworthy, while those who are reliably partisan on the partisan issues but devote most of their political effort to issues that are not partisan in the first place (eg, Feingold, Lugar, Coburn, and, yes, Obama) are not.

My comments:

1. I know next to nothing about Alaska, and it is interesting to learn all this stuff that Ubs tells us in his full post (follow link above).

2. But I think Ubs may be overinterpreting Palin’s popularity. I haven’t seen enough poll data on governors to be sure, but my impression is that it’s nothing remarkable for a governor to be extremely popular, especially in a small state. For example, I found this on the web, from Rasmussen Reports. 64% of Alaskans rate Palin “excellent” or “good”. This indeed is popular–the only three who are doing better are Mike Beebe of Arkansas (68% popularity, by this measure), John Hoeven of North Dakota (72%) and Jon Huntsman of Utah (68%)–but there are a few others who aren’t far off. (Although I have to admit I’m a little suspicious of these numbers, considering that Janet Napolitano (Arizona) has ratings of Excellent, Good, Fiar, and Poor that add up to 108%!)

My impression is that you can maintain high popularity if you are noncontroversial and do not have serious opposition. See here (unfortunately from 2006). Of the 14 governors with over 70% approval, all but two came from small states. Again, this is not to dispute Ubs’s impressions of Palin’s competence, just to suggest that, while “popular governor of a small state” is indeed a political accomplishment, it’s not so remarkable as he might think.

8 thoughts on “A (former) Alaskan’s view of Sarah Palin

  1. It's tough to run a state with a population almost as large as the Bronx with nothing to help you except royalties from an awful lot of $115-a-barrel oil,

  2. Andrew,

    You write:

    "My impression is that you can maintain high popularity if you are noncontroversial and do not have serious opposition."

    But that is one of the major points about Palin. She was/is very controversial, and had/has serious opposition. Even her own party (the corrupt Republican party of Alaska) actively worked against her election.


  3. Prediction:

    "it's nothing remarkable for a governor to be extremely popular, especially in a small state"

    Let's get some data and have a look!

  4. Prediction:

    "it's nothing remarkable for a governor to be extremely popular, especially in a small state"

    Let's get some data and have a look!

    x=population of state
    y=governor popularity

  5. The other thing that might matter is the percentage of voters in the state that are of the same Party as the governor.

    I don't know for sure, but I think Alaska has a relatively high proportion of Republicans which would, all else equal, lead to a higher popularity rating.

  6. First off, I have lived in Alaska for many years and consider myself Alaskan. So that being said, of coarse I may have slightly more favoritism for Palin then someone from the lower 48. However, after dealing with "Good Ol' Boys"(i.e. Murkowski, Stevens and Young) for years with multiple promises and no deliveries, I believe in Palin. I believe that no one else could be more qualified. A real person, who came from a small town, married her high school sweetheart and had five children. Then went on to become mayor, and then governor with no grooming or mentoring from higher powers. The only way I can explain her success, is due to her heart and convictions. She ran a campaign promising to end politics as usual, and she delivered. She even cut her salary, who does that in politics in this age? Some people may say Alaska is a small state, and that may be true if you only look at the population. The truth is however; that Alaska is nearly it’s on country. We have one of the highest state economies, we have communities that require state protection that stretch over a thousand miles from any major community and we are isolated from the lower 48 and directly border Russia. To say we are a small state excuses these truths. The fact is, Palin speaks the truth, and delivers as promised. In the future, I forecast a cloud over Palin’s character in connection with the firing of Safety Commissioner Monegan. Whether he was fired for not releasing a State Trooper for misconduct or not, the fact is that State Trooper Wooten abused his power and failed the oath that he swore to protect. Wooten was investigated for making death threats against Palin’s father, and using a taser on his stepson. He lied about the death threat and then later admitted to it. He also admitted to using a taser on his 9-year-old stepson, after the stepson asked him to do it. What kind of person would use a taser on a kid, even if the kid did ask for it? The point is that Palin is getting heat over this firing of Safety Commissioner Monegan, when it is Monegan that should be taking the heat for allowing such an individual to represent the State Troopers. How many of us would still have a job if we were found to make a death threat again another person, especially if we represented the public? I support Sarah Palin, and I offer her my congratulations. I believe in her cause, and I also believe that she represents and holds hope for many people around this nation. I pray that she can bring the right kind of “Change” to our country. God knows we need it.

  7. My citing of approval ratings was very unscientific. I didn't even find actual polls, so I might be misquoting.

    My real impression of her "popularity" has to do with empirical observation that, among people who follow politics closely and/or work with the state government, a great many Democrats and others who have opposite views on partisan ideological issues nevertheless rave about Gov Palin.

    Everything Rick says rings true to me, including the stuff about the state trooper. This is the type of shallow "-gate" scandal that the national press lives for. Wooten is obviously a total asshole and deserved to be fired. The fact that the commissioner and others on the force protected him just shows how much the good ol' boys network needed to be uprooted. But outside Alaska no one cares about cleaning up the force; they just want to score political points for a nepotism scandal.

  8. … because of her bipartisan competence

    No, because of her non-partisan competence. Yes, it's just a semantic distinction, but that semantic distinction is kind of the whole point of my rant about partisanship.

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