Governors hailing from less-populous states tend to have higher approval ratings, according to Andrew Gelman of FiveThirtyEight.com. Though the trend doesn’t manifest itself every year, data show that in general, and especially in recent years, it’s easier for smaller state governors to nab the kind of outsized numbers that give them a boost in a national run. The data throw some light on the much-ballyhooed popularity of governors like Sarah Palin and Montana's Brian Schweitzer.
Gelman checked state-by-state ratings for national politicians to see if small state residents are just a generally more approving crowd; they’re not. The higher approval applies only to local politicians. Some possible explanations: smaller states generally have weaker legislatures, more homogeneous populations, and more federal money per-capita. In other words, their leaders enjoy less political conflict, fewer disparate demographics to please, and more money to please them with.