Gov. Whitmer's approval rating drops after string of controversies, poll finds

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's approval rating saw its first significant drop of the COVID-19 pandemic, but half of Michigan voters gave her favorable reviews in a poll released Monday by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

The Democratic governor's job approval dropped by 8 percentage points from February to May, according to the survey of 600 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Contacted May 22-26, 50% of participants said they approved of Whitmer's performance while 44% said they disapproved.

In a similar Feb. 3-6 poll, three months earlier, 58% approved while 38% disapproved.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The key question ahead of her reelection campaign in 2022 is whether the rating plateaus or continues to drop, said Richard Czuba, founder of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group, which conducted the May and February polls. If it remains around 50%, she could be in a strong position, but additional declines would be reason for further Republican optimism, he said.

"Where it goes from now is really going to have an impact on what her race is going to look like," Czuba said.

Whitmer's approval rating had remained just under 60% in Glengariff polls in September, October and February after her administration gained national attention for its aggressive response to COVID-19.

In recent weeks, the pandemic has eased — the state reported 2,626 new infections last week, a 48-week low — and the governor has faced a string of public controversies.

On March 1, The Detroit News reported the details of a $155,506 separation deal with the state's former health director. On April 19, Whitmer's office acknowledged that she quietly flew to Florida to visit her father in March, and she later faced questions about how the travel was funded. On May 23, she apologized after a photo emerged showing her at a restaurant with 12 other people gathered around tables pushed together in violation of her health department's epidemic order.

"I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize," Whitmer said after the gathering at Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing.

Czuba mentioned the "self-inflicted" wounds as potential contributors to the governor's job approval drop.

Adrian Hemond, CEO of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grassroots Midwest, said it's not surprising Whitmer's ratings had fallen because they had been in the "stratosphere."

If her approval numbers reach below 50% in multiple polls that will be reason for worry, Hemond said.

It remains unclear who will be the GOP nominee for governor in 2022. Six Republicans have formed candidate committees to seek the position, including conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores and anti-lockdown activist Garrett Soldano of Mattawan.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is expected to announce his own campaign in the coming weeks.

In 2018, Whitmer defeated then-Attorney General Bill Schuette by 9 percentage points.

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's job approval rating peaked at about 50% during his first term in office, Czuba said. Snyder, a Republican, was reelected by 4 points in 2014.

Voters weigh election bills

The question on Whitmer's approval rating was part of the Detroit Regional Chamber's "Michigan Priorities Poll," which examined a variety of issues, including views on the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and election integrity.

Of those surveyed, 65% said the state generally has elections that are safe and secure while 29% don't agree with that statement. Another 8% didn't answer.

Some backers of former President Donald Trump have sought to discredit the state's voting systems in the aftermath of his loss to President Joe Biden on Nov. 3.

Voters expressed differing views on elements of the 39-bill election law overhaul that's being advanced by Michigan Senate Republicans. When it comes to requiring every voter to present a government-issued ID to cast their ballot, 80% supported the idea, and 16% opposed it.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and fellow Republicans have been pushing a 39-bill election overhaul package.

One of the Senate GOP bills would end a policy that allows in-person voters without a photo ID on hand to sign an affidavit to cast their ballots. Under the new proposal, they would have to use a provisional ballot and return later to verity their identity so their votes could be counted.

By a smaller margin, participants also backed requiring voters using absentee ballots to send in a copy of their ID or bring it to the local clerk's office: 51% supported and 43% opposed.

Under an altered version of the proposal referenced in the poll, Senate Republicans would also allow absentee ballot applicants to include their driver's license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or their official state identification number as alternatives to submitting a copy of ID.

A bill that would bar Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from sending out applications for absentee ballots unless voters specifically request them was opposed by 55% and backed by 40% of participants.