Poll: Betsy DeVos viewed unfavorably by half of Michigan voters

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a discussion with first lady Melania Trump and students regarding the issues they are facing in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 9, 2018.

Washington — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is less popular in Michigan than President Donald Trump, according to a new statewide poll.

The survey conducted last week for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV found that 51 percent of the 600 likely voters polled have an unfavorable view of DeVos, compared with 20 percent favorable. 

A whopping 60 percent of respondents said they disapprove of her performance as education secretary — 18 months after Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie vote in the Senate to confirm her. 

Independent voters have a particularly negative view of DeVos, who is from the Grand Rapids area, by a margin of 51 percent to 11 percent, according to the poll. 

"But even a third of leaning Republicans view her unfavorably. And 1-in-5 strong Republicans view her unfavorably," said Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for the Lansing-based Glengariff Group. "Those are some startling numbers."

Some Republican respondents also expressed a low opinion of DeVos' work: About half of respondents who lean Republican said they disapprove of her' job performance, and 22 percent of strong Republicans, the survey found. 

"You can’t just say this is Democrats and independents. There’s a sizable chunk of Republican voters who who simply do not approve of her performance," Czuba said. 

"Republican voters, like Democratic voters, are very protective and highly supportive of their local public schools, so anybody who they deem a threat to their local school is not going to get support."

DeVos' spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by live telephone operators Sept. 5-7, had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. It found DeVos has high name recognition in Michigan — 91 percent had heard of her. 

But DeVos' tenure in Washington has been marked by a drumbeat of negative media coverage and reviews after a series of stumbles in high-profile forums — from her confirmation hearing in 2017 to a mid-March CBS "60 Minutes" interview. 

DeVos admitted to "60 Minutes" she did not know if traditional public schools in Michigan have improved since she and others began pushing to open the state to choice and charter schools..

"I think she was badly wounded from her nomination hearing and never recovered," Czuba said. 

A passionate champion of school choice, DeVos previously chaired the advocacy group American Federation for Children and twice served as head of the Michigan Republican Party. 

Critics have repeatedly noted her lack of experience in community-based public schools or higher education, while supporters say she's held to a different standard than her predecessors.

This election cycle, Democrats and their allies have sought to tie their GOP opponents to DeVos and President Donald Trump, while Republicans are using former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm in their messaging. 

"We wanted to help voters understand why they were using them," Czuba said.

"We found it makes perfect sense for Democrats to use DeVos but for the life of me, looking at these numbers, I can’t understand why Republicans insist on using Jennifer Granholm. Her numbers just aren’t that bad."

Trump has reportedly mocked his education secretary "Ditzy DeVos" behind her back and said he'd "get rid of her" but never did, according to the book by former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman.