Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference in Fort Lauderdale in April, surrounded by people wearing masks. Credit: Florida Channel screenshot.
In Ohio, with more than 3,400 dead, GOP Gov. Mike DeWine recently scored a favorability rating of 75 percent.
In Florida, meanwhile, with 6,586 dead as of Thursday and a death rate still low compared to many other states, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approval rating is in a ditch.
A recent Quinnipiac Poll said his approval rating had dropped by 13 points since April, when he enjoyed a 53 percent positive rating. Now, only 41 percent of respondents approved of his performance. That was his lowest rating since taking office.
Certainly, times are tough all over, with carnage from coast to coast in governors’ standing with voters.
A survey conducted by a consortium representing Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Rutgers universities, released on July 7, indicates “a broad, nearly national pattern of declining executive support.”
The average governor, the survey said, has experienced a 10-point decline in approval from late April to late June.
For DeSantis, Donna Shalala, the congresswoman from Miami who served as secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, offered a way out — but it entails two actions the governor has resolutely refused to take since beginning to lift COVID restrictions.
“He’s got to mandate masks,” Shalala said in a telephone interview. “He’s probably got to close down large portions of the state for at least 14 days, and he’s got to be honest with people that that’s the only way we’re going to start getting control of this virus.”
That Quinnipiac poll was dismissed in some circles as an outlier, but a Mason-Dixon Florida Poll released Friday shows a “significant hit,” — a 17-point fall in the governor’s approval rating, from 62 percent in March 2019, shortly after he took office, to 45 percent now.
“DeSantis’ approval numbers have dropped across the board,” according to Mason-Dixon.
“Not surprisingly, his impressive numbers among Democrats were his biggest fall — declining from 41 percent to 17 percent. But he has also lost approval among Republicans (down 11-points) and independents (down 17-points).”
Americans are taking stock of their leaders’ successes or failures in responding to COVID-19. In part, their judgment reflects governors’ ability to dampen caseloads and death counts. But it also reflects the degree to which they believe their governors express candor and solutions about the situation.
Floridians, it seems, have judged DeSantis as wanting.
The governor’s COVID policy appears to overshadow everything else he’s done, including popular initiatives on teacher pay and environmental protection, said Ed Benton, professor of political science and public administration at the University of South Florida.
“DeSantis is now being more and more viewed by voters in Florida as having bad judgment. Regardless of how he arrives at conclusions, they’re bad decisions, they’re hurting Florida and Floridians,” Benton said in a telephone interview.
The governor’s loyalty to President Donald Trump has proven an additional millstone around his neck as the president’s failure to confront the crisis has hurt DeSantis’ own popularity.
“DeSantis has mirrored Trump,” said Mac Stipanovich, the veteran Florida political operator and lobbyist turned never-Trumper. “The results for Trump are mirrored in the results for DeSantis — a startling drop in approval rating and a consensus judgment of incompetence.”
The governor’s press office had not responded to a request for comment about his political standing as of this writing. Neither had Joe Gruters, a state senator and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
Stipanovich’s harsh assessment aside, DeSantis has hardly ignored the crisis.
He holds news conferences or roundtables with medical experts nearly every day in various parts of the state. His daily schedule reflects frequent discussions with public health officials, mayors, and the Trump administration.
And his closeness with the president appears to have helped Florida secure resources including personal protective equipment and medications.
Moreover, DeSantis took an early step that, while not eliminating them entirely, certainly limited deaths of vulnerable nursing home residents — he barred hospitals from discharging COVID patients to long-term care facilities where they might spread the new coronavirus.
Still, he was comparatively slow to issue a statewide stay-home order and quick to begin reopening businesses in early May. And he appeared to march in lockstep with the president on that and other COVID policies, including his administration’s order to reopen brick-and-mortar schools in August, which came down the same day Trump demanded it in a tweet.
The pandemic and criticism from the news media and other groups prompted DeSantis to show his peevish side on occasion, as when he barred Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez from a roundtable with other Miami-Dade mayors after Hernandez criticized the state’s response about COVID-19 (see this local news report). He’s also lashed out at the press.
Other governors take a slide
The findings in the Quinnipiac Florida poll, conducted between July 16 and 20, are more extreme but still in line with other recent polls in the state, which also reflect a decline in DeSantis’ standing.
Fifty-seven percent of the respondents disapproved of the governor’s management of COVID while 38 percent approved. In comparison, in April, 50 percent approved and 41 percent disapproved.
Asked whether DeSantis opened the economy too quickly, 61 percent agreed and 31 percent thought he acted “at about the right pace.” Six percent said he reopened “too slowly.”
Breaking down the numbers for DeSantis, he remains popular with Republicans, with 82 percent approving of his job performance. But independents approved at a rate of only 35 percent.
His best numbers by age group were among respondents aged 65 and older, at a 51 percent approval rating. Only 26 percent of respondents aged 18 through 24 approved with 69 percent disapproving.
Whites overall gave him a 49 approval rating but among Blacks, 12 percent approved. Among Hispanics, 50 percent approved.
Breaking down DeSantis’ COVID-19 numbers, 79 percent of Republicans approved of what he’s done but only 13 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents approved.
To be fair, a Mason-Dixon poll published Thursday was more encouraging for the Republican brand, showing Joe Biden with only a four-point lead over Trump, within the margin for error.
That poll was conducted between July 20 and July 23 among 625 registered Florida voters, weighted by county, who were interviewed by landline and cellphone. It’s margin for error was 4 percent.
As for the university consortium survey of 50 states, “in only five states — Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Vermont — have governors’ approval ratings increased since late April,” the report says.
Among Florida’s neighboring states, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s approval rating dropped from 60 percent to 48 percent; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s went from 53 to 43. Farther afield, Cuomo’s score dropped in this survey from 70 percent to 65 percent and DeWine’s from 81 percent to 66 percent.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s score declined from 60 percent to 44 percent. California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s slipped from 70 percent to 58 percent, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s from 65 percent to 59 percent.
In addition, the survey noted: “Governor (Doug) Ducey (of Arizona) had the lowest approval for his COVID-19 response of any governor in the country, dropping from a high of 57% in early May to 32% in late June.”
‘No one’s watching’
Congresswoman Shalala acknowledged that DeSantis has held frequent briefings on the pandemic but faulted his overall approach.
“No one’s watching his shows. The COVID numbers are not going down. He allowed the state to open early, and COVID is now in community spread. That means it’s out of control. And it requires very strong steps. He’s still talking about incremental steps,” she said in the telephone interview with the Phoenix.
Cuomo, by contrast, established credibility, Shalala argued.
“He communicated clearly every single day. He told people what’s going on. When he had new information, he changed tactics. He was nimble. He explained the science. He explained what decisions he was making and why he was making them. And everybody watched — shoot, they watched around the country. DeSantis’ problem is that they watched Cuomo.”
At least DeSantis has time to bounce back, especially if the economy improves. And 2022, when DeSantis would stand for re-election, is an off-year for balloting, when turnout tends to drop compared to presidential years, which favors more dedicated voters including seniors who tend to lean GOP.
“Voters are fickle. Voters have short memories,” Benton, the political science professor, said.
“Having said that, unlike Trump, the advantage he has is two more years in office. And you’d be surprised how quickly people will change their minds about assessing people and policies,” he said. “Time heals all, and those things can be changed quicker than a lovers’ spat.”
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