The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Many governors win bipartisan support for handling of pandemic, but some Republicans face blowback over reopening efforts

President Trump and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, seen last year at the Akron-Canton Airport in Canton, Ohio, have very different approval ratings for how they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Governors collectively have been winning widespread praise from the public for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, often with the kind of bipartisan approval that has eluded President Trump. But a large-scale Washington Post-Ipsos poll finds that some Republican governors who have embraced reopening their states are struggling to achieve that consensus.

The survey of more than 8,000 adults reveals a wide range in the assessments of Republican governors, but not for their Democratic counterparts. The disparities appear to be linked not solely to partisanship, but also to the differing paths the governors have adopted as they seek to balance efforts to contain the spread of the virus while trying to limit the damage to their economies.

The contrast is widest in two states won by Trump in 2016. In Ohio, 86 percent of adults say they approve of the way Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who moved aggressively to close down his state and has been cautious about lifting the restrictions, has dealt with the crisis. In Georgia, 39 percent of adults approve of the performance of Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who moved less swiftly than some other governors to mitigate the spread and has been in the forefront of reopening the economy there.

Overall, 71 percent of Americans approve of their governors’ performances, with majority approval from people in both major parties. A much smaller 43 percent approve of Trump’s efforts. In Trump’s case, assessments are dramatically partisan, with more than 8 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approving of his handling of the crisis and almost 9 in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents disapproving.

In the two largest states with Democratic governors, Gov. Gavin Newsom (Calif.) and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (N.Y.) receive positive marks from about 8 in 10 adults. Those lofty positive ratings dip significantly in the two largest states with Republican governors. In Florida, 60 percent of adults give Gov. Ron DeSantis positive ratings, while in Texas, 57 percent say they approve of the way Gov. Greg Abbott has handled the pandemic.

Newsom and Cuomo earn positive marks from people in both parties, although their own party is more favorable. For Cuomo, 93 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans approve of the job he has done. For Newsom, the numbers are nearly identical, with 89 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans offering positive assessments.

The lower approval numbers for the governors of Texas and Florida reflect negative assessments from Democrats in their states, according to the Post-Ipsos poll, which was conducted from April 27 to May 4. While at least 8 in 10 Republicans in each of those states say they approve of the performance of their governor, fewer than 4 in 10 Democrats say the same.

Ohio’s DeWine has succeeded more than any large-state governor in attracting broad, bipartisan support. He wins 84 percent approval among his fellow Republicans, along with 90 percent approval among Democrats. That is a dramatic contrast with the president, whose handling of the crisis is approved by 89 percent of Ohio Republicans but only 12 percent of Ohio Democrats.

The range across these states is notable given that the survey simply asked people whether they approved of “your state’s governor.” The respondents were not prompted with either the name of the governor or the governor’s political party.

A 74 percent majority of Americans overall say the United States should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus even if it means keeping many businesses closed, while 25 percent say the country should open up businesses and get the economy going again, even if the result would be more infections.

Across 12 states with sample sizes large enough to break down results, from Pennsylvania to Texas to California, at least 7 in 10 say they prefer focusing on slowing the virus’s spread rather than beginning to reopen businesses.

On several occasions, the White House overstated the amount of medical supplies it delivered through “Project Airbridge,” according to a Post investigation. (Video: The Washington Post)

Yet there is a significant partisan divide on this question. More than 9 in 10 (92 percent) Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they favor closures to deal with the virus, while Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are split almost evenly, with 49 percent saying closures should be the top priority and 50 percent saying businesses should be opened up again.

Abbott, DeSantis and Kemp face blowback for reopening their states on a faster schedule. Nationally, 56 percent of Americans say their state government has handled restrictions on businesses “about right,” with 28 percent saying restrictions have been lifted “too quickly” and 16 percent saying they have not been lifted quickly enough. But nearly half of Floridians (48 percent) and majorities in both Texas (59 percent) and Georgia (65 percent) say their state government is “lifting restrictions too quickly.”

Ratings for Kemp suffer from a difficult combination: overwhelming disapproval among Georgia Democrats, and lukewarm approval among Republicans.

The poll highlights the degree to which Americans have placed trust in their governors, as well as the difficulties for state leaders in navigating the politics of reopening while Americans widely support continuing to restrict businesses.

As a group, governors appear to have steered through those divisions and won substantial approval among those from their rival party. In states led by Democratic governors, 75 percent approve of their handling of the outbreak, including 91 percent of Democratic-leaning residents, as well as 54 percent of those who lean Republican. In Republican-led states, 67 percent of people give positive ratings to governors, including 80 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats.

Two other Democratic governors have earned at least moderate support across parties. In Pennsylvania, 72 percent of adults approve of the performance of Gov. Tom Wolf in dealing with the virus, including about 9 in 10 Democrats, along with about half of Republicans. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper’s overall rating is 74 percent, including more than 9 in 10 of his fellow Democrats and more than half of Republicans.

Partisan divisions are sharper in Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has extended stay-at-home orders despite armed protests in the state capital. The Post-Ipsos poll finds 72 percent of residents overall approve of her handling of the outbreak, but the survey sample is not large enough to estimate results by party. A stand-alone Fox News poll in April found 64 percent of registered voters approved of Whitmer’s handling of the situation, including 90 percent of Democrats compared with 35 percent of Republicans.

The Washington Post-Ipsos poll was conducted through Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, a large online survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Overall Washington Post-Ipsos poll results among the sample of 8,086 U.S. adults have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus one percentage point. The sample sizes for results in individual states reported here range from 219 in Georgia to 962 in California, with error margins ranging from 3.5 to 7.5 points.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.