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Lansing — Michigan voters are “strongly optimistic” about the direction of the state and generally have a favorable opinion of new Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to a new statewide poll conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV.

Roughly 48 percent of respondents in the Jan. 24-26 survey said Michigan is headed in the right direction as a state. For the first time in 15 years of polling by the same firm, fewer than 30 percent said they believe the state is on the “wrong track,” a 10 percentage point improvement from last fall.

“The galvanizing event here was the election of a Democratic governor,” said pollster Richard Czuba of Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc. He noted Democrats and independents had been less bullish about the direction of the state prior to Whitmer’s election.

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“People are optimistic,” Czuba said. “They see the economy in Michigan doing well. And so, there’s a great degree of optimism right now. The question is: How long does it last or does it grow?”

The Glengariff survey of 600 voters likely to participate in the 2020 election cycle was conducted by live operators. Sixty-five percent of respondents were reached on landline phones, and 35 percent were reached on cellphones.

Most Michigan voters had a negative view of the direction of the country, but more  Democratic, independent and leaning Republican respondents said Michigan is on the right track. Only strong Republicans disagreed, with 39 percent saying the state is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 35 percent the right track.

Less than one month into her four-year term, Whitmer is saddled with few negatives. Among all voters, 40.5 percent said they had a positive impression of the new governor, compared with about 20 percent negative. Many voters — 32 percent — are reserving judgment. 

Thirty-eight percent of voters said they approve of Whitmer’s work so far, while 13 percent disapproved and 49 percent said they did not know. 

Whitmer essentially enters office with a clean slate after defeating Republican nominee Bill Schuette by 9 percentage points in the 2018 gubernatorial election, said Czuba, who added that negative campaign attacks have appeared not to to stick.

To start out, “she’s getting the benefit of the doubt from a lot of voters,” Czuba said. “Not necessarily strong Republican voters, but the other voters are giving her a chance.”

Former Gov. Rick Snyder appeared relatively popular when he took office in 2010, but his job approval ratings plummeted amid the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis and never fully rebounded.

As of September, Michigan voters were near evenly split on Snyder’s job performance, but 56 percent said they believed things had gotten better over the past eight years. Roughly 46 percent of voters said Michigan was on the right track at that point, compared with 40 percent who said the state was on the wrong track.

Whitmer ran on a pledge to “fix the damn roads” and is expected to detail infrastructure and education improvement plans in her Feb. 12 State of the State address and subsequent executive budget proposal.

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson both begin their tenures will low name identification and low negatives — which could change amid high-profile legal fights over GOP laws and alleged gerrymandering.

About 45 percent of voters said they knew Nessel, with 13 percent saying they have a favorable impression of her and 6 percent unfavorable. For Benson, 38 percent of voters knew her name, including 8.5 percent who had a favorable opinion and 4.5 percent unfavorable.

joosting@detroitnews.com

Change in direction

A majority of 600 likely Michigan voters say the state is on the right track after being more pessimistic in the past year.

Survey period        Right track  Wrong track

January 2018         41%            37%
September 2018    46%            40%
Early Oct. 2018      41%            45%
Late Oct. 2018        40%           46%
January 2019          48%           29%
Note: Jan. 24-26 poll has margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. 

Source: Glengariff Group Inc. 

Whitmer's job approval rating

How likely Michigan voters see Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after less than a month on the job.

Approve      38%
Disapprove 13%
Don't know  49%
Note: Jan. 24-26 poll has margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. 

Source: Glengariff Group Inc. 

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