Whitmer's approval rating climbs after no-fault reforms

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her first keynote address as governor at the Mackinac Policy Conference Thursday on Mackinac Island.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s job approval rating has climbed 13 percentage points since January and now tops 50% for the first time, according to a new poll conducted on the heels of a bipartisan deal to reform the state’s auto insurance system.

Roughly 51% of Michigan voters say the first-term Democrat is doing a good job, while 24% disapprove and 23% are undecided, according to the May 28-30 poll of 600 likely voters conducted by Glengariff Group and released to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV.

Whitmer’s approval rating is up from 38% in January, when nearly half of Michigan voters had not yet formed an opinion of her job performance.

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The latest figures suggest Whitmer “had a very strong first six months in office,” said pollster Richard Czuba.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder's job approval rating peaked at 55% in 2015 but cratered during the Flint Water Crisis and never fully recovered, according to previous Glengariff polls. As of September 2018, voters were evenly split on the Ann Arbor Republican, with 46% approving and 47% percent disapproving of his performance,

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The survey did not ask voters about Whitmer’s controversial proposal to raise fuel taxes by 45 cents per gallon to “fix the damn roads.” While she campaigned on a pledge to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, the governor did not unveil her fuel tax plan until March, and Republican legislative leaders have balked at the proposal.

“I’ve never seen a poll or done a poll in which voters would support a gas tax increase,” Czuba said. “But it doesn’t appear in these numbers that Whitmer’s proposal on the gas tax is hurting her at this point. And that is likely because voters aren’t paying it.”

Whitmer's approval rating was measured at roughly the same time she signed into law a no-fault auto insurance plan designed to drive down rates that routinely rank among the highest in the nation. She negotiated the deal with Republican legislative leaders who led the reform effort. 

By July 2020, the law will end Michigan’s unique requirement that motorists purchase auto insurance that guarantees lifetime medical coverage in the event of a catastrophic crash, giving them the option to instead purchase less-expensive policies with less personal injury protection. 

While some medical providers and trial attorneys have criticized Whitmer for signing the law, “I think Gov. Whitmer is getting a lot of voter support for the bipartisan reform effort,” Czuba said. “It’s been a while in Michigan since we’ve seen a governor with over 50 percent job approval.”

The poll results appear to be “very positive news” for Whitmer, said Dave Dulio, a political science professor and director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University.

While the governor’s gas tax plan is “not at all popular” with voters, it appears the public is “going to give her a chance to see what else she can come up with working with the Legislature,” Dulio said. “You have to assume the signing of the auto insurance reform law and negotiations she had with Republicans had an impact.”

Most Michigan voters now know Whitmer, including 39% who have favorable opinion of the East Lansing Democrat and 26.5% with an unfavorable opinion, according to the poll. Nearly 28% said they have no opinion of Whitmer.

Voters who identify as “strong” Republicans are the only demographic with a negative view of Whitmer’s job performance, but “lean” Republicans, independents and Democrats all gave her relatively high marks.

While voters in Southeast Michigan helped Whitmer win election, the governor is polling well across the state. Voters in Metro Detroit approve of her job performance 49%-20%, compared with 54%-28% across the rest of Michigan.

Among voters over the age of 65 who typically pay closer attention to state government than young people, 61% approve of Whitmer’s job performance, compared to 24% who oppose it.

“The first voters to pay attention are voters over 65,” Czuba said. “They’re paying attention to Gov. Whitmer, and they’re liking her right now.”


INSIDE THIS POLL: How it was conducted.