Voters hold Beacon Hill in high esteem
Mass. governor, lawmakers lead nation in popularity
POLITICS IS NOT all toxic. Here in Massachusetts, voters hold political leaders in very high regard. The state Legislature has climbed to 65 percent approval in a poll we released last week, the highest we have seen in our polling going back over a decade. Gov. Charlie Baker sports a 73 percent approval rating and has been in the 70s and 80s for most of his term. Taken together, we have what may be the most popular governor and the most popular legislature in the country.
We’ve been riding high for a little while now. A 2018 nationwide poll found the Massachusetts Legislature atop the list of most popular legislative bodies. And nationwide polls tracking approval ratings have often found Baker at or near the top of the most popular governors. Putting the two together shows how much of an outlier Massachusetts truly is. Maryland — another blue state with a moderate Republican governor — is the only other state that comes close. A few states do not appear on this chart due to insufficient sample sizes for their state legislature polls. The gubernatorial polling was done in 2019 before the elections that year.
Massachusetts is also heads and shoulders above the federal government, where Donald Trump is closing out his term with a job approval in the 30s. If that sounds bad, Congress hasn’t topped 30 percent job approval in more than 10 years.
Why this is uniquely the case here in Massachusetts is not entirely clear. It’s not the fact that Massachusetts is more or less a one party state, though we certainly are. Other than the governor, the state Republican Party barely exists, and spends much of its time and energy in full scale war with itself. But the high ratings are not just Democratic voters appreciating Democratic leaders. There are plenty of states with unified control where voters hold their leaders in modest regard.
The truth may be that we don’t dislike politics or politicians here the way popular culture suggests we should. Even during campaigns, candidates locked in hard-fought races often come out looking good. Both Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and her opponent (now former) Congressman Michael Capuano were well liked despite a spirited campaign. Same with Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, Joe Kennedy III and Ed Markey, and Tito Jackson and Marty Walsh among many other examples. Running for office in Massachusetts doesn’t have to leave your name and reputation in tatters.
There is not an obvious way we are different that explains why this is. No matter what characteristic we look at (geography, size, party distribution, etc) there are other states that fit the same model where the numbers are not as high. It’s also not unambiguously good, since it creates incentives for stasis and incrementalism when the need for change is both immense and immediate.Our polling throughout the pandemic finds voters with a long to-do list for political leaders. The challenge is lighting a fire under lawmakers with so little heat coming from voters. Action on legislation sometimes comes from friction between the two branches, but with voters largely content (or not paying attention), the governor and the Legislature have settled into a pattern of homey incrementalism.
Steve Koczela is the president and Rich Parr is the research director at the MassINC Polling Group.