Poll: Michiganians favor Whitmer's COVID-19 handling over Trump's

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan residents favor Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's handling of the coronavirus over that of President Donald Trump, according to a poll done for the Detroit Regional Chamber that was released Monday.

A survey of 600 Michiganians found 57% approved of the Democratic governor's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 37% of respondents who disapproved. The finding came after more than 4,000 protesters descended on Lansing and the Capitol to protest Whitmer's tightened stay-home order that was extended through April 30.

By contrast, 44% of those polled approved of Trump's handling of the COVID-19 crisis while 50% disapproved. The Republican president, who is running for reelection, has sporadically criticized Whitmer, who is a national co-chairman of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign and is being considered as a potential running mate.

Of those surveyed, 39% identified themselves as Democrats, 35% as Republicans and 26% as independents. Nearly half of those surveyed were in the Detroit media market, 20% in the Grand Rapids market and 11% were in the Flint market. 

Half of the respondents were contacted on landline phones and the other half were contacted on their cellphones through text message.

Trump's approval numbers are almost identical to what his overall job approval numbers have been for the better part of three years now in Michigan, said Richard Czuba, a Lansing-based pollster who conducted the survey. 

"For this moment in time, that’s startling," Czuba said. "And that’s because this is very much a rally-around-the-flag moment, and voters typically would be rallying around the leadership of the president, and they clearly are not.”

A January Glengariff Group poll found 40% of likely Michigan voters approved of Trump's performance while 51% were unfavorable. In May 2019, 37% of likely voters were favorable toward Trump and 54% unfavorable.

Whitmer initially criticized the Trump administration for not delivering enough medical supplies and ventilators as Michigan dealt with a mounting crush of coronvirus cases and deaths. The state is third highest for the number of COVID-19 cases and fourth in deaths across the nation.

Trump has defended his administration's handling of delivering medical supplies and equipment and has in recent days tweeted that some governors, including Whitmer, have gone too far with their stay home edicts and restrictions. In one of them, he wrote: "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"

The Glengariff Group poll had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Democrats approve of Whitmer's handling 89%-8%, while Republicans disapproved of it 22%-70%, according to the survey. But independent voters approved of her handing 56%-35%, Czuba said.

Among other findings, about 28% of Michigan residents said they are worried about putting food on the table amid increasing unemployment and issues gaining access to state benefits. 

Roughly 29% of respondents said they had been furloughed, laid off or unable to work because of the virus while 18% of those still reporting to work believe they have or have had the virus, according to a poll of 600 Michigan residents. 

The state’s unemployment numbers and the response to the poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday go “beyond record breaking into the realm of breath taking,” Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said in a statement.  

Baruah served as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under former President George W. Bush and was in that role during the 2008 credit crisis. 

“I never expected that I would ever see an economic deterioration of that scope and that speed,” Baruah said. “This outstrips that in both scope and speed. ... It’s just pretty stunning.”

As of April 11, a little more than a million people — nearly a quarter of the state’s workforce — had filed for unemployment in Michigan in a four-week period. And those filings have been plagued by delays in an overworked online claims system that usually handles an average of 5,000 new claims a week. 

The poll found that of the 27% of residents who have filed for unemployment because of the virus, 48% said they have successfully filed, 37% have not and 15% were not sure whether they had been successful. 

“There’s a very large amount of people who are still saying they are having trouble with the system, more than that they’re not sure whether they’ve been successful,” pollster Czuba said. 

About half of respondents said they believe Michigan is already in a recession, and 47% said they face catastrophic to major financial impacts from the pandemic.

As of Sunday, the state’s number of COVID-19 deaths stood at 2,391 while the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases stood at 31,424.  Individuals Metro Detroit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne made up 88% of the state’s deaths and 77% of the state’s confirmed cases. 

Michigan's cases and deaths appear to have plateaued, but the effect is still concerning, Baruah said. 

“It’s a little like a car that’s reached maximum velocity,” he said. “We’re not accelerating any more but we’re still going fast.”

The Detroit chamber poll was conducted to get an idea of the experiences within Michigan's households and the status of employees and employers as they eye returning to work.

The results showed both the eagerness and concern about that return as the state attempts to balance health and economic crises, Baruah said. 

“One of the priority issues that we are thinking about is the chance for a false start,” he said. “The last thing they want is to be given the green light only to have the rug pulled out from under them a few weeks later because something unprecedented has happened on the health care side.”

In the poll, half of the respondents were contacted by landline and 50% by cellphone text messaging. 

“We’re trying to paint a picture of what’s really happening in households across the state, and I think there are some really sobering numbers,” Czuba said. 

Michigan residents varied about the prospects for returning to normalcy. About 18% said they believed the state would be back to normal in a month, 39% in one to six months and 36% in a year or more. 

“I don’t think there’s an expectation from residents that this is just going to vanish and go away quickly,” Czuba said.