Eye On Illinois: Many ways to spin Pritzker’s 51% approval rating

Let’s play a numbers game.

Morning Consult polled registered voters from July 21 through Oct. 20 and presented a bar graph ranking each state’s governor by job approval. Atop the list was Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, with a 79% rating. The caboose is Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, 43%.

First-term Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s approval rating is 51%. The numbers game is a matter of presentation.

To frame that figure as bad news for Pritzker, count down from the top and see he ranks tied for 35th place with Ralph Northam, D-Virginia; Mike Parson, R-Missouri; and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-New Mexico. Or take out the Republicans, which leaves Pritzker in 12th place among his Democratic peers, ranking even below California’s Gavin Newsom, who just survived a recall election.

To frame it as good news, note Pritzker has a higher favorability rating than Kim Reynolds, R-Iowa, at 49%, and and even bigger lead over Tony Evers, D-Wisconsin, at 45%. He’s got a better approval rating than President Joe Biden, who was at 42% in a late October Gallup poll.

To simply be the news consumer, do a little unpacking. Biden had only been on the job 272 days at the time he posted his 42% (that’s lower than every president at a similar spot going back to Carter with one exception — Donald Trump’s 37% approval at 283 days). Pritzker has been governor since January 2019, and his job isn’t exactly the same as Biden’s.

Or look at the polling methodology and notice a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. That means Pritzker’s approval could be 55%, putting him in a 24th-place tie with the likes of Bill Lee, R-Tennessee, Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, Brad Little, R-Idaho, and Jay Inslee, D-Washington. But he also could be at 47%, and only four governors have worse numbers.

When Prtizker won his job in 2018, he captured 54.5% of the vote. So perhaps losing a few points this far out from a re-election bid is to be expected. But that vote captured a single moment of time and could just as well have been a referendum on then-incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, or maybe it should be contextualized as one outcome in a major nationwide election.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, had a 57% approval rating, but won a new term a few weeks ago with 51.2% of the vote. That’s a steep drop, but no Democrat had won re-election in New Jersey since 1977, so that approval rating can’t be entirely insignificant.

Polls alone are interesting, but pay attention to who presents the outcomes and how — that’s the path to learning why, which is always the most useful information.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at