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Poll: Prominent governors who want to reopen quickly aren’t so popular

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has taken an aggressive stance on reopening, and he’s not as popular as some more cautious state leaders.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to the media during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol on April 27 in Atlanta.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Many state governors have seen their popularity — and approval ratings — soar since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But according to a new poll, how popular individual governors are seems to depend on how quickly they took steps to prevent the spread of the virus and whether they’ve thus far delayed reopening.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll of 8,086 US adults, with a margin of error of 1 percentage point, showed that state leaders like Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine — who each took swift action to shut down their state’s economies quickly and have prioritized public health throughout the pandemic — are incredibly popular in their home states.

Almost 8 in 10 (79 percent) of adults in California approved of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, while 86 percent of Ohioans approve of DeWine’s handling of the pandemic.

On the flip side, of the dozen states included in the polling, people appear less happy with some Republican governors who acted slowly in response to the virus and are now rushing to reopen the economy. In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was one of the last governors to shut down for public health, and he’s now taken the lead among states looking to reopen. His coronavirus response approval rating sits at just 39 percent. Likewise, in Florida, 60 percent of adults give Gov. Ron DeSantis a positive rating, but one that’s far below his more cautious conservative counterpart, DeWine.

In short, the April 27 to May 4 poll seems to indicate that whether constituents approve of a governor’s handling of the pandemic is much less about partisanship than whether people think their governor is acting in the public good to prevent the spread of the virus.

People are still more scared of reopening too quickly and risking a second wave of new Covid-19 infections and are punishing more aggressive governors for trying to reopen too soon. Nearly half (48 percent) of Floridians, 59 percent of Texans, and 65 percent of Georgians said their states are reopening too quickly.

This helps explain why Democratic governors, despite facing widely covered anti-shelter-at-home-order protests, have mostly remained popular or seen their approval ratings surge throughout the pandemic.

Overall, governors are drawing majority support from both major parties, with 71 percent of adults approving of their governors’ performances. In contrast, President Donald Trump is much less popular than the average governor, drawing only 43 percent approval — though it divides sharply along partisan lines. More than 8 in 10 Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the crisis, and 9 in 10 Democrats disapprove.

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