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Governors' approval ratings drop as COVID-19 cases mount
Voters growing weary after months of the coronavirus pandemic are increasingly critical of their governors, especially in states where those governors raced to reopen the economy and are now suffering a surge in new cases.
A major survey conducted by researchers at Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern and Rutgers found Americans in 44 states now have a lower opinion of the way their governor is handling the coronavirus outbreak than they did in April, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.
In more than two-thirds of the states, the governor's approval rating dropped by more than 10 percentage points. Residents in only five states have a better impression of their governor's response to the pandemic now than they did in April.
The poll, conducted over a two-week period this month among 19,052 adults across all 50 states, found that governors who have been the most hesitant to rush reopening their own economies have been rewarded by voters who are also nervous about a premature return to normalcy.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) scores the strongest marks in the nation; 76 percent of his constituents say they approve of the way Hogan is handling the virus. In Vermont, 75 percent like the way Gov. Phil Scott (R) is handling his state's outbreak. Seventy-one percent of New Yorkers and Rhode Islanders approve of Govs. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Gina Raimondo (D), respectively. And Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) is seen in a positive light by 70 percent of those in the state.
On the other end of the spectrum are governors who raced to reopen their economies, or never truly shut them down in the first place. Those governors are now overseeing some of the most significant hot spots in the United States, places where the virus is spreading virtually unchecked.
Just 28 percent of Iowans approve of the way Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is dealing with the outbreak. Only 30 percent of Arizonans approve of Gov. Doug Ducey's (R) handling. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) coronavirus approval rating is just 38 percent, 2 points higher than Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R). And only 34 percent of Oklahomans approve of the way Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), who has the virus himself, is handling the state response.
"In general, governors that have sought to reopen have been out in front of their citizens. They've moved faster than the public was comfortable moving," said Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb professor of global communications at Harvard's Kennedy School and a co-author of the study. "The governors who are doing really well are the ones that have acted most proactively."
Americans are willing to give both Democrats and Republicans high marks for strong leadership during the crisis; of the six governors with the highest approval ratings, three are Democrats and three are Republicans.
But it is Republican governors who dominate the lowest ranks of the list. Fourteen of the 15 worst-rated governors are Republicans; the lone Democrat, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), started the pandemic as one of the least-popular governors in the country. Just 39 percent of Hawaii residents approve of the job he is doing - a figure that has actually risen 2 points since April.
One commonality among the most popular governors: The vast majority of them have issued mandates ordering residents to wear masks in public. Twelve of the 15 most popular governors have issued mask mandates and just two of the 16 least popular governors - Abbott and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) - issued mandates.
As the pandemic has grown worse, voters in the hardest-hit states have abandoned their governors in droves. Ducey's approval rating dropped by 26 points, while the governors of West Virginia, Arkansas, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota all saw their ratings drop by more than 20 points.
Even those governors with high marks are not immune to those who might be growing tired of the lockdowns; Bakers's approval rating has dropped 10 points in the Bay State, while Hogan's and Raimondo's are each down 3 percentage points since April.
Among the five governors who have seen their approval ratings rise, only two have seen statistically significant increases - and under very different circumstances.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who resisted lockdown orders and social distancing mandates even when hosting President Trump for a large July 4 event at Mount Rushmore, has seen the number of residents who approve of her handling of the virus jump by 9 percentage points, to 54 percent.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), on the other hand, has publicly feuded with the White House, so much so that Trump issued an empty threat to block Vice President Pence from speaking with her. Whitmer's handling of the virus stands at 67 percent approval, a 5-point increase since April.
"Her confrontation with Trump seems to have gone over well," Baum said.
The vast majority of governors have one thing in common: they are still seen more favorably than Trump, whose handling of the virus gets positive marks from just under one-third of Americans.
Trump's approval rating is worse than governors in all but five states: Arizona, Iowa, Missouri and Georgia, where residents have a higher opinion of Trump than of their Republican governors, and Tennessee, where residents see Trump and Gov. Bill Lee (R) in an equally unfavorable light.
Trump's ratings are dismal in the 13 key swing states his campaign sees as critical to his path to a second term in office. In those states, in which Trump has spent time or money campaigning, his handling of the virus is seen in a favorable light by an average of just 34 percent of those polled, 2 points higher than his national average.
Only 28 percent of Wisconsin residents approve of the job Trump is doing controlling the uncontrolled virus. Just 29 percent of Iowa residents said the same, as did only 30 percent of those in Michigan and New Hampshire. His best swing state rating comes in Florida, where 39 percent see Trump's handling of the virus in a favorable light, and in Arizona and Georgia, where 38 percent said the same.
The poll, conducted by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public's Policy Preferences Across States, surveyed those 19,052 individuals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia via an online platform from July 10 to 26. The national results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point, while state-by-state surveys carry a margin of error ranging from 5 percentage points in large states to 11 percentage points in Alaska and Wyoming.