By contrast, the governors who eschewed public health experts’ advice and reopened quickly — as President Trump urged — have seen their approval ratings drop, by double digits in some cases.
The polling underscores a pretty simple reality: Most voters want the coronavirus under control above all else. They seem to be willing to be told to wear masks in the summer heat, to avoid large crowds and to avoid going to school or work. In fact, voters have rewarded those politicians who have limited their movement. Polls show that most Americans are still scared they or a family member will get sick.
Democratic governors Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Roy Cooper in North Carolina, Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania and Tony Evers in Wisconsin — all states that will play a role in the 2020 presidential election — have approval ratings in the high 50s to mid 60s this summer, all after taking restrictions that went beyond many of their Republican counterparts to control the coronavirus.
Before the pandemic, less than half of people in Michigan, 42 percent, approved of the job Whitmer was doing. That jumped to 60 percent this March. And she gets positive marks any way you ask the question on how she’s handling the virus. In a separate CNN/SSRS poll, 69 percent of voters said she was “doing everything she could to fight the outbreak."
Cooper in North Carolina is up for reelection in what was supposed to be one of the Democrats’ toughest fights in 2020 for governors’ mansions. But according to a recent NBC/Marist poll, he leads his opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R), by 20 points among registered voters.
Cooper refused Trump’s demands to lift coronavirus restrictions so the president could hold the Republican National Convention there. Instead, the governor has tightened restrictions as the summer has gone on, issuing a statewide mask mandate and recently hitting pause on the state’s reopening. The same NBC/Marist poll found 58 percent of North Carolinians approving of Cooper and 34 percent disapproving.
The governor with one of the highest approval ratings is Mike DeWine of Ohio. Three-quarters (75 percent) approved of the Republican governor in a Quinnipiac University poll in June, up from 44 percent from a year ago. DeWine’s approval rating is an all-time high for Ohio governors in Quinnipiac polls dating back to 2007.
He was one of the first of any governors to issue a stay-at-home order and to try early on to get people to wear masks. Though there were protests in his state, voters have rewarded DeWine with a 31-point jump in his approval ratings from last year. He’s now one of the most popular governors in America.
While many states do not have reliable polling and therefore do not have gubernatorial approval ratings, one of the lower numbers from those states that have been polled came from Florida. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed 38 percent of people in the state approved of the job Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is doing, while 57 percent disapproved — the inverse of some of the higher performers we noted. DeSantis’s approval rating dropped 12 points, from 50 percent, in April.
And there’s plenty of evidence that his problems are tied to the coronavirus. After Florida’s coronavirus cases stayed relatively low this spring, DeSantis opened up the economy aggressively, pushing aside top scientists in the state in favor of making decisions that tracked with Trump’s wishes. Now Florida is the nation’s epicenter of the coronavirus, recently reporting more total cases than New York. And a CNN/SRRS poll found 63 percent in the state thought DeSantis “could be doing more to fight the outbreak.”
Other governors presiding over hot zones aren’t doing well, either. A July CNN/SRRS poll found that 66 percent of people in Arizona thought Gov. Doug Ducey (R) could be doing more to fight the coronavirus. Before the virus hit the state hard, an OH Predictive Insights poll had his approval rating at 59 percent in June. By mid July, just 35 percent approved of the job he was doing.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has been one of the most vocal governors to support reopening and oppose mandating masks. As he urges people to wear them of their own accord, he sued Atlanta and its Democratic mayor to stop them from instituting a local mask mandate. A Monmouth University poll out Wednesday found that voters in Georgia largely disagreed with his position: 79 percent wanted masks mandated in indoor spaces, and 63 percent wanted localities to be able to choose their own mask policy.
That same poll has Kemp with a 54 percent approval rating on handling the coronavirus, down just a few points from before the pandemic. His disapproval rating jumped up 14 points in that Monmouth poll compared with one by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution in January.
Finally, in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a mask mandate as coronavirus cases rose precipitously in his state this summer; a July Quinnipiac University poll found that 80 percent of Texas voters agreed with that. That’s an unequivocal endorsement of mask requirements in a state that prides itself on individual liberty.
Despite that, Abbott’s approval ratings lag. Quinnipiac found voters split on how he’s handling the coronavirus outbreak: 47 approved, 48 percent disapproved. That’s a 21-point swing from June.
Trump would do well to watch these numbers. His advisers have repeatedly pressed him to focus his energy on fighting the virus, but his response has been anything but steady. With few exceptions, he’s favored optimistic projections over talking realistically about the spread, and conspiracy theories over the advice of health officials. In a lot of these states, Trump’s approval has dropped too, making once-Republican presidential strongholds like Georgia and maybe even Texas more competitive.