Whitmer's job approval beats Trump's job approval in Michigan, poll finds

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has maintained a steady job approval rating with a majority of Michigan voters despite election-year sniping by President Donald Trump, whose job approval is about 15 percentage points lower, according to a Detroit News-WDIV-TV poll released Tuesday. 

Nearly 54% of Michigan voters view the Democratic governor favorably and 59% approve of the job she's doing, according to the Oct. 23-25 survey of 600 likely Michigan voters. The job approval number inches up to 61% about her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

The poll by the Lansing-based Glengariff Group found 37% viewed Whitmer unfavorably, 38% disapproved of the job she is doing and 37% disapproved of her handling of the pandemic. 

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, and President Donald Trump

The job approval ratings are a slight uptick from an early September Detroit News-WDIV poll, an increase that falls within margin of error. 

By contrast, Trump's job performance remained consistent at 44% approval and 52% disapproval — a double-digit contrast with Whitmer. The Republican president's handling of the pandemic dropped to a 55% disapproval rating and 39% approval — a more than 20-point gap with the governor. 

Trump has frequently criticized Whitmer's early shutdown order and subsequent COVID-19 restrictions that were eased during the summer after cases declined. When he criticized the governor and called for opening more schools and businesses amid the pandemic, his supporters at an Oct. 17 Muskegon rally and Tuesday's Lansing rally started chanting "Lock her up."

The largest factor driving Whitmer's popularity are Trump's attacks on her, Glengariff Group pollstrer Richard Czuba said. 

The continual attacks on Whitmer, he said, "may be one of the single, biggest bonehead political moves I’ve seen this election.

"If your job is to attract women in an area where you’re doing poorly, attacking Gov. Whitmer is not the way to do that," Czuba said. "It's reflected in her polls and his polls.”

Among other things, Trump has described Whitmer as "the woman in Michigan," which her supporters quickly translated to "That woman from Michigan." When she criticized how protective equipment that Michigan and other states needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic was going to the federal government, he called her "Gretchen 'Half' Whitmer" on Twitter. 

Trump's favorability rating in the same poll came in at 40% favorable and 53% unfavorable, numbers that have remained consistent for the president's nearly four years in office, he said. 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was viewed favorably among 46% of voters and unfavorably by 47%. Whitmer is a national co-chair of Biden's campaign and was considered for the vice presidential nomination that went to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

"The presidential numbers and Gov. Whitmer’s numbers are so interconnected here," Czuba said.  "Just as President Trump is getting shellacked in southeast Michigan, Gov. Whitmer is getting her strongest numbers in southeast Michigan.”

In addition, Czuba said, Whitmer is doing "very well" with outstate women. This development "undercuts Republican strength just as it's undercutting the president’s campaign right now," he said.

Voters' approval of Whitmer's handling of the pandemic increased to 71% approval among Metro Detroit voters and fell to 52% approval among outstate voters. Among rural voters, 48% approved of the governor's handling of the pandemic while 51% disapproved. 

Whitmer's pandemic approval also increases among voters over the age of 65, an age group from which she captured a 75% approval rating. 

It came as no surprise to Mark Tennenhouse of Troy to hear that Trump's comments about the governor could be reflected in their divergent job approval numbers.

"I absolutely believe that there’s a correlation,” Tennenhouse said.

"But I do support what she’s doing,” he said. "She is taking the coronavirus very seriously, and I think we need to exercise caution before we open everything up and try to get back to normal.”

Yvonne Babe may be a bit of an outlier.

The 75-year-old East Tawas woman voted for Whitmer in 2018 but expressed strong disapproval of the governor's COVID-19 response in the poll. She plans to vote a Republican ticket on Nov. 3. 

The governor has an "air of arrogance" and is more interested in the lives of her constituents in southeast Michigan than outstate communities, Babe said. 

"Her whole campaign message was to fix the damn roads," Babe said. "Well, she hasn’t. And it would have been a perfect time while we were locked in our homes for road crews to go out and fix the damn roads.”