Great Lakes Poll shows bipartisan support against COVID-19, approval for governors

In what was shaping up to be a divisive 2020 electoral campaign season, the Baldwin Wallace University Great Lakes Poll shows a surge in bipartisan support for midwestern governors and actions taken to “flatten the curve” through social distancing.

State governors see a massive amount of support in regards to their response to COVID-19. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has a 78.8% approval rating plurality (“strongly approve” and “somewhat approve” responses combined) and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has a 68.6% approval plurality. 

“Their [governors’] approval has really surpassed President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus,” Oakland University political science professor Terri Towner said. “We see that Governor Whitmer, her approval of handling COVID is 18 percentage points higher than Trump’s handling approval [51.1% among Michigan respondents].”

Focusing on Michigan respondents’ attitudes toward Whitmer and Trump, 80.2% of Democrats and 60.8% of Republicans support Whitmer; 26.9% of Michigan Democrats and 84.5% of Michigan Republicans approve of Trump’s handling, showing that partisanship still colors people’s attitudes toward the federal response.

The trend of partisanship affecting Trump-based questions and bipartisanship on questions not about him can be noticed throughout the poll’s COVID-19 related questions. When asked if they support the NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA Basketball suspending their seasons, respectively, 84.9%, 84.5%, 82.3% and 81.6% of Michiganders said they agreed. When asked if they supported closing schools, daycare centers, restaurants and bars, and limiting public gatherings, respectively, 87.4%, 82.2%, 77.5% and 85.1% of Michiganders said they agreed. Democrats tended to support the closings more than Republicans, though the largest gap between their support was by about nine points. 

The least popular curve-flattening measure the poll suggested was postponing primary election dates, with 64% Michigander support divided between 69.7% of Democrats, 62.8% of Republicans and 56% of independents.

As for partisanship-influenced responses, 27.7% of Democrats and 83.7% of Republicans in Michigan said they trusted information about COVID-19 that came from Trump. Overall, 51.1% of Michiganders said they trusted Trump’s information. Republicans were also more likely than Democrats to believe that the threat of COVID-19 is overblown, while Democrats were more likely to say the US healthcare system is ill-equipped to handle COVID-19.

Towner said that this is similar to the “rally around the flag” effect.

“We would see [in a time of crisis] a rally — a high approval — for the president in the White House at the time and the party in power, but then we would see a division along party lines about how they are handling the crisis or the war,” Towner said.

Many Michigan Democrats and Republicans are similarly worried about COVID-19. 96.6% of all Michiganders follow COVID-19 news, 89.6% are concerned about COVID-19’s impact on the economy and 65.8% say the worst is yet to come.

Ohio Northern University professor Robert Alexander said the responses should be looked at as a snapshot of the time the poll was sent out (March 17-25) rather than as the final opinion of the crisis.

“It is such an unprecedented time, that it is really too much to make certain going forward into November as to what this is going to tell us in outcomes relative to Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump,” Alexander said. “It really is a snapshot, but … also a very important addition to the historical record.”

The Great Lakes Poll is run by Baldwin Wallace University with help from Oakland University and Ohio Northern University.