King: Predicting Gubernatorial Performance

March 6, 2013


The “Power 50” ranking published by Howey Politics Indiana this year lists Gov. Mike Pence at the top. Governor Pence enters office with solid political credentials — serving 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, holding the No. 3 Republican conference chair in 2008, and being a strong and outspoken conservative voice against the vagaries of deficit spending, both in the Bush and Obama administrations.

The editor of the ranking, with other Indiana political and policy observers, contends that Governor Pence has the makings of a successful gubernatorial run: a super majority in the General Assembly, a clear and concise policy program — jobs and education — and a charismatic personality with the communication skills necessary to promote his agenda.

Of course, there are the question marks: He was the first modern-era Indiana governor to win office with less than 50 percent of the vote (he defeated John Gregg 49 percent-46 percent); and, most importantly, the speculation as to whether he will abandon the governor’s office to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016. The first suggests that he does not have a sizable percentage of Hoosiers behind him, thus lacking in political capital. The second portends of his jumping ship (the governorship) for a higher port of call (the presidency).

Political science, however, is less interested in popular speculation and more interested in empirical reality. This is particularly true when trying to ascertain leadership success and influence in policy making. How do we define successful executive performance? What measures or variables are critical for predicting performance? What evidence indicates that Governor Pence will be successful as Indiana’s 50th chief executive? These questions will be the focus of this policy brief.

First, what is the definition of successful executive performance? Generally speaking, performance is linked to policy effectiveness; simply put, how much and to what degree is the governor’s policy program implemented? But gubernatorial leadership is even broader; it lays out a vision, speaking in generalities and using political rhetoric to advocate advancement of his policy agenda. Where is the evidence?

Looking at the text of his 2013 inaugural address, it is filled with rhetorical flairs and political platitudes, all of which speak to Governor Pence’s vision for Indiana:

The key, of course, is turning this political rhetoric into policy reality. This is the true measure of successful gubernatorial performance, which leads us to our second question: What measures or variables are critical for predicting performance?

Executive-leadership scholars have identified and tested empirically several key variables, including personality, skill and experience, resources and performance strategies, plus political, institutional and economic contexts. Others have examined less empirically measurable variables such as personal morality, communication skills, cognitive style and even emotional intelligence.

Let us examine three categories of variables: personality, politics and policy. We will define and explain each, and then apply them to the early activities and actions of Governor Pence’s administration. We will conclude with observations and implications.

Personality — Because this is a broad category, it is not easily definable. However, various examples, both quantitative and qualitative, that fit into the personal category cited by scholars include age, political background, moral values and ideological persuasion. This “personality” category of variables does not so much predict gubernatorial performance as it indicates the probable political and policy positioning on various issues and problems facing the state and constituents.

For example, Governor Pence is a self-described “Christian, conservative and Republican.” What does this self-description say about his policy positions? And what if anything does it predict about his gubernatorial performance? We can address the first question by examining his long history of voting in the House of Representatives.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, non-partisan research group headquartered in Washington D.C., tracks congressional voting records through its website Congressman Pence was labeled an “extreme conservative” on most policy issues, including domestic and foreign.

On select issues that did not reflect his moral and Christian religious commitment and his ideological leaning (supporting abortion, promoting affirmative action, advocating same-sex domestic partnership benefits or supporting more federal funding for healthcare), found that Congressmen Pence “strongly opposed” all such actions.

And on other issues that did reflect his moral and Christian religious commitment and his ideological and partisan leanings (teacher-led prayer in public schools, absolute right to gun ownership, privatizing Social Security, enforcing laws against all illegal drugs and allowing churches to provide welfare services), Congressman Pence “strongly favored” such legislative actions.

But as a gubernatorial candidate, his two primary issues were education and economic growth. What was his congressional voting record on select issues in these two policy areas?

On economic issues, he generally cast fiscally conservative votes, but on other occasions he voted for additional stimulus spending. Some examples:

On education issues, his voting record was largely representative of less national government involvement. Some examples:

Do these select votes give us insight into how the governor will perform on these issues? In his recent State of the State address, he promised to support more funding for education vouchers, teacher salaries, and general funding for schools and programs. The Republican-controlled House approved (along party lines) a budget that targets education, providing $6.7 billion in tuition assistance, $200 million in new funding for kindergarten and $7 million for a pilot program in pre-kindergarten education. Regarding the economy, the budget calls for $250 million in infrastructure, including roads and bridges that did not get funded or finished under the toll-road lease agreement passed in the Daniels’ administration. Despite missing his 10 percent cut in income taxes in the House-approved budget, it appears that Governor Pence is “legislating” similarly to the way that Congressmen Pence voted.

Politics — Much of what happens as a governor is not controlled by the person but is affected by other factors, such as the politics of the state legislature, particularly focusing on which party is in control, and finally the condition of the state’s economy. We refer broadly to this variable as “politics.” It is divided into components here: internal and external. Internal political assets include the governor’s political experience, especially executive leadership experience. And external political assets include political capital, measured by party support in the legislature, electoral margin of victory in the latest gubernatorial election and professional reputation.

Several measures of the internal components indicate promise for executive leadership success, including serving six terms as a U.S. congressman (2000-2012) and congressional leadership experience; excellent communication skills, as evidenced by being a host on talk radio (“The Mike Pence Show”) in the 1990s and, more recently, being a vocal Republican and conservative House spokesperson on a variety of policy issues.

With regard to measuring previous executive leadership, Pence was president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation (1991-1992). In addition, he has demonstrated political will and perseverance, losing back-to-back U.S. congressional bids before finally winning his congressional seat in 2000 with 51 percent of the vote.

The external components of the political variable are also vital to determining executive leadership success. Gubernatorial studies contend that strong partisan support in the state legislature and relatively high state economic growth are keys for gubernatorial performance. Pence enjoys a solid Republican majority in the legislature, suggesting that favorable legislation should be passed.

Additionally, Indiana, like most other states, is not experiencing high economic growth. The nation’s governors, including Pence, are therefore challenged to take aggressive action in combating slow growth. Some indicators of the poor Indiana economy are below (Council of State Governments, States Perform website:

With the exception of the percent of home mortgages that are underwater, all other select economic variables are in many cases significantly worse off than both the national and regional mean. The question is — how does Governor Pence intend to address a poor Indiana economy? Examining this question leads us to the third variable: policy strategy.

Policy — Gubernatorial leadership is often related to the nature of the strategy adopted by individual governors in pursuit of their support for their programs. One way to measure this is by assessing the size and complexity of a governor’s policy agenda. A small and concise policy program is more likely to succeed than a bulky and cumbersome one. A second measure is the timing of when the proposals are introduced into the legislative process. The most successful governors are those who are able to introduce their policy program early in the legislative session. To analyze this question, we turn to Governor Pence’s “Road Map for Indiana.”

The map ( designates six major goals, with several objectives under each goal. The goals include: 1) increasing private-sector employment; 2) attracting new investment in Indiana, with emphases on manufacturing, agriculture, life sciences and logistics; 3) improving the math and reading skills of elementary students; 4) increasing graduation rates; 5) improving the quality of the Hoosier workforce; and 6) improving the health, safety and well-being of Hoosier families, especially children. Of these goals, the first two are directly related to the health of the economy. How have Pence and his administration fared in addressing them?

The “Road Map for Indiana” includes a “Mid-Legislative Session” ( update, indicating which goals have been addressed by legislative or executive action at this point in the legislative session. The mid-session update for the two primary economic points of destination is listed below:

A.   Increasing Private-Sector Employment:

B.    Attracting New Investment in Indiana, With Emphasis on Manufacturing, Agriculture, Life Sciences and Logistics

The map is a detailed list of policy objectives, with two of the goals primarily focused on improving Indiana’s economy, both in the short term and in the long term. Even though none of the economic policy objectives are directly related to addressing the economic indicators spelled out in the Council of State Government’s State’s Perform website — with the possible exception of the 10 percent reduction in state income taxes — it is clear that Governor Pence, his administration, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly are making a concerted effort at working toward trying to improve Indiana’s economy. Of course, a state’s economy is indirectly affected by a large number of other policy issues, such as the impending Affordable Care Act and its implications; however, these issues go beyond the parameters of this policy brief.

Measuring and analyzing gubernatorial leadership is a multi-faceted endeavor. We have examined three variables: personality, politics and policy. Each variable, whether empirically or qualitatively measured and analyzed, contributes toward understanding gubernatorial success.

The three variables, which are standard political and policy variables used by political observers, combine to detail Governor Pence’s early successes. Obviously, it is much too early to provide a robust analysis, but early indicators appear to show that Pence is meeting several of his campaign promises and several of the goals and objectives detailed in his “Roadmap for Indiana.”

His initial setback of not getting his campaign promise of a 10 percent income-tax cut in the initial budget iteration may be offset politically by additional successes in other policy areas. As noted at the outset, the possibility of Governor Pence deciding to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 most certainly would have consequences, both positive and negative, toward measuring his success and performance as Indiana’s chief executive.

Stephen M. King, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is a professor of political science at Taylor University.




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