Do Governors Really Make Better Presidents? We Did the Math

Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Rick Perry all think someone with their experience should be the next POTUS.

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Photograph By: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For obvious reasons, several current governors who might run for president in 2016 have suggested that the next president of the United States should be a governor.

“We need something fresh, organic from the bottom up—and that’s what you get in the states,” Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker told Chuck Todd on Sunday. He shared the same sentiment last November, when he said that the next president should be someone who has “done successful things in their state.” Last month New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie said he’s “convinced that the next president of the United States is going to be a governor, and it needs to be.”

Also on Sunday, Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry told Breitbart that, unlike former Senator Barack Obama, governors have experience leading. “If you’re in the Senate or if you’re in the House, you can give a speech and then go home. Governors can’t. We have to govern,” Perry said. “And the president of the United States, historically, has had to operate that way, too; the ones that were successful.”

For these three 2016 hopefuls this strategy accomplishes two goals: it criticizes Obama’s relative inexperience going into office and knocks other potential candidates like Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. But are governors better leaders?

We looked at the approval ratings of the last 13 presidents (from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama) and compared the governors to the non-governors. According to Gallup data (the question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way [first & last name] is handling his job as President?”), former governors have left office with higher approval ratings (52.4 percent on average) than non-governors (46.4 percent). Only three presidents have left office with approval ratings above 60 percent: Presidents Roosevelt, Clinton and Reagan, all former governors.

But if you average the overall approval ratings of presidents, the difference is less pronounced. Here are the average approval ratings for the former governors:

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt: 72.3 percent
  • Jimmy Carter: 46.1 percent
  • Ronald Reagan: 52.5 percent
  • Bill Clinton: 55.6 percent
  • George W. Bush: 51.0 percent

And the non-governors:

  • Harry Truman: 42.1 percent
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: 64.2 percent
  • John F. Kennedy: 70.2 percent
  • Lyndon B. Johnson: 55.4 percent
  • Richard Nixon: 47.1 percent
  • Gerald Ford: 46.1 percent
  • George H.W. Bush: 60.1 percent
  • Barack Obama: 47.8 percent

Based on those numbers, the governors have an average approval rating of 55.5 percent, compared to 54.1 percent for the non-governors. In other words, based on approval ratings, former governors tend to be slightly more popular, especially when they’re leaving office. Your move, Rand Paul. 

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