Whitmer's approval rating dips, still positive to start 2nd year

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's approval rating dropped over the final seven months of her first year in office, but more Michigan likely voters still support her performance than oppose it, according to a new statewide poll. 

About 43% said they approved of Whitmer's job performance, according to a Jan. 3-7 survey of 600 likely Michigan voters by the Glengariff Group that was provided to The Detroit News. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, seen presenting her budget proposal to lawmakers on March 5, has told residents she is willing to stake her political career on the road funding fight.

Meanwhile, 36% of likely voters said they either "strongly disapprove" or "somewhat disapprove" of Whitmer's performance. And 20% declined to answer or didn't have an opinion, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of minus-plus 4 percentage points..

“To be plus 7 (percentage points) in Michigan, you’ll take it,” said Richard Czuba, founder of the Glengariff Group, noting that many more voters said they approved of Whitmer than disapproved.

The numbers "fairly typical" for a first-term governor, Czuba said. Whitmer, a Democrat and a former state lawmaker from East Lansing, was elected governor in 2018.

A Glengariff poll about Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder's job performance in August 2012  — 19 months into his first term — found similar results. About 48% approved of Snyder's performance at that time while 39% disapproved. He went on to win reelection.

Whitmer's approval rating dropped 7 percentage points from a similar poll by the Glengariff Group at the end of May 2019. And the percentage of people disapproving increased by 12 percentage points.

The May survey was taken as Whitmer signed a deal with Republicans to reform the state's auto insurance laws, Czuba said.

After that deal, Whitmer's final seven months of 2019 were dominated by a fight with the Republican-controlled Legislature over the state budget. At the end of September, Whitmer, whose administration said the budget didn't do enough for roads and schools, made $947 million in vetoes to the Legislature's approved budget in hopes that the vetoes would spur lawmakers to return to the negotiating table.

It wasn't until Dec. 10 that Whitmer and lawmakers agreed to a spending bill to restore some of the vetoed funding. The budget fight didn't seem to have a major impact on voters' thoughts about Whitmer, Czuba said.

"I am not sure it resonates with voters," he said. "Voters don’t get caught up in how the sausage gets made. They just want the sausage."

Whitmer should feel pretty good about the new poll numbers considering what she went through in 2019, said Bill Ballenger, a former GOP lawmaker and a longtime political observer in Michigan.

Ballenger, who runs a website called "The Ballenger Report," noted that Whitmer's proposal to increase the state gas tax by 45 cents per gallon was rejected by lawmakers and she faced a lengthy budget controversy.

"I am surprised it’s that high," Ballenger added of Whitmer's approval rating. 

Whitmer will deliver her second State of the State speech on Jan. 29.