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Most Americans Like How Their Governor Is Handling The Coronavirus Outbreak

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Poll(s) of the week

Because they have the power to institute “stay at home” orders, buy hospital equipment and coordinate other vital tasks in their states, governors have been at the forefront of the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. They’ve been getting credit for their leadership, too. In the past month, for example, The New York Times called New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, the “politician of the moment” and “the Trump whisperer.” Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, has received accolades for acting early to curtail the spread of the virus while President Trump was still downplaying its risks.

It’s not just the media, either; the public is also appreciating its governors. Recent state-level polling shows that a majority of Americans in each state approve of the way their governor has handled the COVID-19 crisis so far. For comparison, just under half of Americans approve of Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus. And the three national polls we found in April that asked about this — one from Morning Consult, one from Monmouth University and one Quinnipiac University — also found people were much more likely to approve of their governor’s response than Trump’s.

Americans like how their governors are handling COVID-19

National polls from April asking people how well they think President Trump and their governor are handling the coronavirus outbreak

Governors Trump
Dates Pollster Approve Disapprove Approve Disapprove
April 3-7 Monmouth 72% 21% 46% 49%
April 3-5 Morning Consult 61 31 40 54
April 2-6 Quinnipiac 74 24 46 51
Average 69 25 44 51

Of course, not all of that difference is necessarily explained by how governors are handling the pandemic — many governors were simply more popular than Trump to begin with. For example, the Morning Consult poll found a 21 percentage point difference in the share of people who approved of their governor’s response versus those who approved of Trump’s. At the end of last year, before the coronavirus emerged in the U.S., governors were about 9 percentage points more popular than Trump was.1 So while some of the difference between governors’ and Trump’s approval ratings on the COVID-19 crisis may be related to governors’ preexisting popularity, there’s still a 12-point gap that’s not explained by pre-coronavirus approval ratings alone.

Some governors are getting especially high marks. There aren’t a ton of state-specific polls yet about how people feel about their governor’s response (the Morning Consult, Monmouth and Quinnipiac polls don’t break out individual states), but the polls we have so far show Cuomo, DeWine and especially California Gov. Gavin Newsom getting an overwhelmingly positive response.2

Governors are getting high marks for COVID-19 response

Job approval ratings for each governor’s handling of the coronavirus crisis vs. their overall approval rating prior to the pandemic

COVID-19 polls Pre-pandemic
Governor Party State number Approval Approval Diff
Newsom D CA 1 83% 42% +41
Cuomo D NY 2 79 47 +32
DeWine R OH 1 80 49 +31
Evers D WI 2 72 48 +24
Whitmer D MI 2 66 42 +24
Inslee D WA 1 67 44 +23
Hutchinson R AR 1 80 58 +22
Cooper D NC 1 63 47 +16
Bel Edwards D LA 1 68 54 +14
Sununu R NH 1 73 59 +14
Stitt R OK 1 69 56 +13
Gordon R WY 1 82 69 +13
Wolf D PA 2 66 53 +13
Baker R MA 1 80 69 +11
DeSantis R FL 1 51 58 -7

Baseline approval numbers are from Morning Consult’s 2019 Q4 governor rankings.

Source: Polls, Morning Consult

Governors like Cuomo and DeWine are getting far higher marks for their response to the virus than, for example, Ron DeSantis of Florida. DeSantis has been criticized for failing to close down Florida’s beaches during spring break and for waiting until April to issue a stay-at-home order.

Still, approval of most governors’ pandemic response is higher than their baseline approval ratings, suggesting they’re doing something to impress even people who don’t normally approve of them.3 Newsom, for example, isn’t especially popular overall, but he’s getting higher marks for his coronavirus response than just about any other governor for which we have data. Meanwhile, Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, is also getting good marks for his handling of the virus, but he already had the approval of a large majority of his constituents. Baker was, at one point, the most popular governor in America according to Morning Consult’s numbers (and according to PARG — our “Popularity Above Replacement Governor” — metric).



How close are we to a COVID-19 vaccine? l FiveThirtyEight

It isn’t clear yet if, or how much, the crisis will affect the electoral prospects of each governor. Of those we have data for, only three are up for reelection this coming November: Democrat Jay Inslee of Washington, Democrat Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Republican Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. How they handle the coronavirus response could make a bigger electoral difference to Sununu and Cooper than Inslee, a Democratic governor in an already very Democratic state. As for the remaining governors, we either don’t have a pandemic-related approval polling yet or they are not up for reelection this year.

In any case, the COVID-19 crisis, and all its fallout, is still incredibly fluid. Many of these numbers can and likely will change. So far, however, Americans are happier with how their governors are handling the crisis than their president.

Other polling bites

  • While the governors are getting high approval ratings for their coronavirus responses, there is one person getting even higher marks: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Both Monmouth and Quinnipiac polls showed Fauci to be the most trusted official when it comes to the response to the outbreak. The Quinnipiac poll found that 78 percent of Americans approve of the way Fauci is handling the coronavirus response, while only 7 percent disapprove.
  • About a quarter of Americans say they have either lost their job or had a pay cut from coronavirus-related shutdowns, according to a CNBC poll conducted by Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies.
  • According to a SurveyUSA poll conducted this week, over half of homeowners and over 60 percent of renters are either “somewhat” or “very” concerned about being unable to pay their mortgage or rent on time.
  • A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this week found that 72 percent of Americans — including 79 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans — support the federal government requiring states to allow mail-in ballots in November to protect against further spread of the coronavirus. Trump has opposed efforts to expand voting by mail.
  • 57 percent of Americans say they believed in the Easter Bunny as a child, according to a YouGov poll conducted Wednesday.
  • If, like me, you don’t enjoy jigsaw puzzles, then I have some bad news for you: The country is against us. A new YouGov poll found that only 28 percent of Americans either don’t enjoy jigsaw puzzles very much or don’t enjoy them at all. Sixty-one percent of Americans say they either enjoy jigsaw puzzles a lot or somewhat enjoy them.
  • 95 percent of 13-to-17 year-olds report cancellation of in-person classes at their school, according to a SurveyMonkey poll conducted at the end of March. Ninety-six percent of students attending private school and 83 percent of students attending public school said they’re being assigned schoolwork remotely. But private school students were much more likely to report having attended online classes or having frequently connected with their teachers.
  • South Korea will go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country’s 300-member unicameral legislature. Citizens wearing face masks and gloves will have their temperatures taken and will be sprayed with hand sanitizer before casting their ballots. According to The Economist, a poll from this month found that 73 percent expressed their intent to vote. Polling shows that incumbent President Moon Jae-In’s approval rating has increased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his ruling party will win the election.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 44.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 50.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -5.7 points). At this time last week, 45.7 percent approved and 50 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -4.3 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 53 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.2 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.8 percentage points 48.9 percent to 41.1 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.7 points (48.9 percent to 41.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.2 points (48.8 percent to 41.6 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Footnotes

  1. We computed an average pre-COVID governor approval rating by using end-of-2019 polling numbers from Morning Consult (which releases quarterly job approval ratings for every governor in the nation) and weighting by the size of each state’s population. For Trump, we averaged all of the Morning Consult approval polls from the same period, the final quarter of 2019.

  2. We did find one poll from Microsoft Research that asked about governors’ responses to the virus and broke out the responses for all 50 states, but it used a methodology that projected answers onto the estimated distribution of demographic groups. The method is commonly known as MRP (multilevel regression and poststratification); methodologically, it’s somewhere between a pure poll and a statistical model, and we typically exclude such polls from our analyses.

  3. It is possible that pollsters have asked this question mostly in states where the governor’s response has been somehow notable. We still don’t have polls available for most states, including large states like Texas.

Dhrumil Mehta is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

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