Michigan voters back virus vaccinations, Whitmer pandemic measures, poll finds

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Most Michigan residents say COVID-19 remains a major threat to public health and the state's economy, they welcome vaccinations to fight the virus and they believe Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has worked harder than Lansing lawmakers to address the pandemic; and about half believe schools should be online, according to a new poll.

A majority of those polled also supported a mask requirement indoors at public places.

And while voters understand the health risks of the virus, they also lean toward supporting small businesses to help them over the crisis, according to Richard Czuba, president of Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the poll.

"From day one, the chamber has looked at the public health crisis and the economic crisis as one," Sandy K. Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO, said Tuesday. "Our polling efforts with the Glengariff Group these last few months have been geared toward understanding how Michigan voters view the health and economic challenges, how they bounce off each other, and how families and individuals are coping or view the challenges at hand."

The poll, commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber, surveyed 600 registered voters statewide. It was conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4 amid a statewide closure of some businesses, indoor dining and in-person instruction at high schools and colleges as the virus surges. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Michigan on Monday confirmed 7,205 new cases and 90 more deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 437,985 and deaths to 10,752 since the virus was first detected in March, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported.

Pandemic impact

Some 82.7% of those polled believe the pandemic is the same or worse than in April, shortly after the first cases reached Michigan, while 83.7% think the state's economy is worse now than in April. Some 83.8% say controlling the pandemic would help the economy.

Voters also were asked if the economy worsened due to not curbing the virus or "because elected officials kept forcing businesses to shut down." Nearly half, 45.8%, blamed the restrictions, and 39.6% cited the COVID spread for the state's economic downturn, the poll found.

The question, as expected, revealed differences along geographical and political lines.

"A majority of out-state voters (54.8%) said the economy is worse because officials keep shutting down businesses, but a plurality of Metro Detroit voters (45.6%) blame it on our inability to get the virus under control," the report's authors wrote.

Most participants who identified as strongly or leaning Democratic, 76.9% and 65.2%, respectively, linked virus control issues to the downturn, while 84.6% of voters identifying as strong Republicans and 67.4% of those leaning Republican blamed the shutdowns.

“Similar to our statewide polls in April and May, voters are sending a clear message that public health measures are essential to beating the pandemic and that the public health crisis and business restrictions are harming our economy," Baruah said. 

Meanwhile, about 41% of respondents said that COVID-19 has had no impact on their household finances, but one in four say it's had a major or catastrophic impact, with people under 40 reporting the largest financial hit, reflecting the inequities laid bare by the pandemic.

Whitmer, Legislature response

The poll found a majority of those surveyed appreciated Whitmer's leadership during the pandemic.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urges Michigan residents to rein in their plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas amid exponential growth in COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

Whitmer recently announced extensions for restrictions on businesses, schools and dining as COVID-19 cases surge and support remains steady. 63.3% of the respondents said they believe the Democratic governor "is aggressively working on getting the pandemic under control and protecting public health." That's up from a Detroit News-WDIV-TV poll in late October that found support for the governor's pandemic performance at 61%. 

More than 95% of strong Democrat voters and 89% of those leaning Democrat said she was "doing everything" to control the virus, compared to at least 30% of Republicans, according to the poll. 

Some 27% do not believe Whitmer is doing everything to curb COVID, while more than half who believe the governor hasn't done everything that she could "said it was because she should open businesses or do nothing," the authors wrote.

Fewer than those who support the governor's stance on trying to control the pandemic back the Legislature's response. Only 29% believe "the state’s legislative leaders are doing everything they can do to get the pandemic under control," with 46.5% saying they are not. 

Of the latter group, 40.9%, said the lawmakers "should work and compromise with the governor," the poll found. On a 10-point scale of "working in a bipartisan manner to get the pandemic under control ... voters rated legislative leadership at 4.5."

When asked how they viewed the Michigan Supreme Court ruling unconstitutional a 1945 law giving the governor authority to issue executive orders declaring a state of emergency, 34.5% "believe the decision made it more difficult to control the virus."

Closures, restrictions, priorities

Addressing life in the pandemic prompted a range of responses in the poll:

•76.2% of Michigan voters have changed their holiday plans.

•By a 68.2%-29.8% margin, voters support a mask requirement indoors in public places. Most of the demographic groups surveyed — strong Democrat, leaning Democrat, independent, leaning GOP — backed it with at least 50%. Only one, strong Republican, opposed, with 63.9%.

"These data points show that there might be a willingness for government to enact a mask mandate, in conjunction with a moratorium on curtailing business operations," a "compromise" the chamber has not formally backed but has "encouraged" policymakers to discuss, Baruah said.

•Roughly half, 49.7%, believe schools should be online, while 36% say it's safe to send children to class and 6.5% back having a combination of virtual and in-person learning.

•Asked if they only pick one of five places to keep open, 30.3% chose manufacturing plants. The others were: 22.8% for retail and small businesses; 18.7% K-12 schools; 3.8% construction companies; 3.5% restaurants.

•Asked when Michigan emerges from the pandemic, what issue state leaders should tackle first when the state emerges from the pandemic, 58% said helping small businesses bounce back. That was higher than all the figures combined for the other choices, including fixing the state's roads and bridges or improving health care access.

•The poll found that most of those who identify as strongly Republican, or 70%, continue to believe the threat of the virus has been exaggerated: "That really is the base where voters are to some degree discounting the magnitude of the pandemic," said Czuba.

Bar manager Jen Rigley, left, and cook Amber Parent clean up the kitchen at PJ's Lager House in Detroit in November. The bar closed indefinitely due to new restrictions on indoor dining because of the increase in COVID-19 cases in the state.

“There is a lot of nuance in how voters are approaching this crisis,” said Czuba. “As we’ve seen in the past, voters understand the health risk of the pandemic. But these numbers also show that voters understand the economic difficulties facing small businesses. Voters are saying they understand the health dimension, but they also are saying we want to make sure small businesses are helped through the economic crisis. Voters are saying both are important.”


The voters were polled more than a week before the first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use in the United States left the state.

Some 52.5% say they'd receive the vaccine when it is available, while 30.0% would not and 13.2% said it depends. 

Abigail Reeder, manager of Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital's Pharmacy, shows a COVID-19 vaccination record card at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids on Dec. 11, 2020.

The preferences played out along party affiliations, racial lines and age brackets, the poll found.

At least 50% of all voter demographic groups said they would vaccinate, but 47.5% identifying as strongly GOP declined. 

Most older voters, those age 50-64 and above 65, also were willing to be vaccinated. But no more than 43.2% of voters aged 18-29, 30-39 and 40-49 planned to get the vaccine.

"While 57.8% of white voters will get the vaccine, only 32.9% of Black voters will get the vaccine. 26.6% of Black voters said it depends," the authors wrote.

Staff Writer Jordyn Grzelewski contributed .