State Watch

Governors win high marks for coronavirus response, outpacing Trump

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Americans are giving high marks to their governors as they lead state responses to the exploding coronavirus outbreak that has sickened more than 216,000 people across the country.

At the same time, polls show fewer Americans are changing their minds about President Trump, even as he holds daily press briefings updating the country about the federal response. And some surveys are showing Americans growing unhappy with that response as governors increasingly sound alarms about lack of supplies and support.

In a poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center for The Associated Press, 57 percent of Americans said they approved of the response to the virus being mounted by their state governments. Just 38 percent approved of the federal government’s response.

In individual states, governors — most of whom are briefing the media and their residents on a daily basis — have seen their approval ratings shoot through the roof.

A Marquette Law School poll conducted last week found 65 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of the way Gov. Tony Evers (D) is doing his job, up 14 points in a month, and 76 percent approve of the way Evers is responding to the pandemic. At the same time, Trump’s approval rating, 48 percent, was unchanged from a month before, and only 51 percent approved of his handling of the outbreak.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has seen her job approval rating jump to 60 percent, according to a Marketing Resource Group poll, and just 22 percent disapprove. Whitmer’s approval rating is 15 points higher than Trump’s in the battleground state; Trump dismissively referred to “that woman from Michigan” after Whitmer complained about the lack of support from the federal government.

In New York, almost two-thirds of state voters said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is doing an excellent or good job, the highest rating he has scored in a Siena College poll. Eighty-seven percent said they approve of the job Cuomo is doing to bring the virus under control, while just 41 percent said the same of Trump.

A poll conducted by Baldwin Wallace University, Oakland University and Ohio Northern University found 80 percent of Ohio voters approve of Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) actions to stop the virus, though just 58 percent said the same of Trump.

Almost three-quarters of New Hampshire voters — including 61 percent of Democrats — like the response mounted by Gov. Chris Sununu (R), but only 41 percent of voters said the same of Trump, according to a University of New Hampshire poll.

“Just as we often see after major natural disasters, governors are attracting widespread support in many states as they have become the face of their government’s respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Thad Kousser, the chair of the political science department at the University of California, San Diego.

More than 6 in 10 voters approve of the steps taken by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), according to recent surveys conducted in their states. In Washington and Pennsylvania, Trump’s approval ratings are in the 40s, while 53 percent of North Carolina voters said they approve of the way he is handling the outbreak.

Experts said the governors who acted quickly and decisively have given voters the impression that they are on top of the situation, in a way the federal government has not.

“In a time of widespread concern and worry over the epidemic that sort of clear action has garnered strong positive response. The White House has been somewhat less clear in its actions and signals,” said Charles Franklin, the Marquette pollster who found Evers’s approval ratings rising rapidly.

Governors often have an advantage, too, in that they are seen as less partisan than officials at the federal level. Voters are often less aware of partisan squabbling in state capitals than they are of battles between the Trump administration and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

State governments may also have a reservoir of trust that the federal government does not enjoy, especially in times of hyper polarization. While Trump has bragged about the television ratings his briefings get, the repeated need to fact-check incorrect information that comes out of those briefings may undermine what good they would otherwise do.

A Grinnell College poll conducted by Iowa-based pollster Ann Selzer found 72 percent of Americans completely or mostly trust the governors of their states as credible sources of information. Just 46 percent said they saw Trump as a credible source of information.

Trump’s approval ratings, usually mired in the mid-40s, have risen in recent weeks to near 50 percent, as Americans rally around their president in a time of crisis. But Trump is a more polarizing figure than previous presidents, and few Democrats have rallied to his side the way Democrats did to George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“They are viewed through a less polarized lens: long before the crisis, governors have received more support from voters in the other party than presidents have, especially this presidents. Voters haven’t already made their minds up about governors,” Kousser said.

Underscoring the point, several governors who only barely won election are now hugely popular, even with members of the other party. Evers in Wisconsin, Sununu in New Hampshire and Cooper in North Carolina all won election by slim margins.

Some governors have held back on taking dramatic steps that public health officials have called for in order to stem the spread of the virus. Republican governors in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi waited until Wednesday to order state residents to stay at home, weeks after California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) became the first governor to take such a radical step.

But the polls show that those radical steps aren’t so outside of the mainstream: More than three-quarters of Americans support requiring people to stay at home and closing bars and restaurants; more than 80 percent support mandatory quarantine for those entering the United States from overseas, limits on social gatherings and closing schools, the NORC-AP poll found.

Franklin said the situation will change as the economic fallout from the catastrophic pandemic becomes clear but that at the moment voters support governors taking decisive action.

“As the economic toll rises in tandem with the mortality toll it is hard to forecast how opinion changes, but right now [governors] are seen as doing the right thing,” he said.

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