Whitmer's job approval falls, splitting Michigan voters, poll finds

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's job approval has fallen to a point where Michigan voters are nearly split about how she is doing, according to a new poll released Monday, marking a large decline from prior surveys.

The decrease has occurred as the Aug. 31-Sept. 3 survey by the Glengariff Group found that a majority of 600 registered voters said the state is on the wrong track and that they disapprove by a wide margin of the job that President Joe Biden is doing. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press conference at Balduck Park in Detroit on July 29, 2021.

About 48% of voters approve of the Democratic governor's performance and 46% disapprove, according to the poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber, whose political action committee in 2018 endorsed Whitmer over Republican Bill Schuette for governor.

The latest numbers are a marked shift from September 2020, when 59% of voters approved of Whitmer's performance and 38% disapproved, according to the poll. In May, 50% of voters approved of her performance, while 44% disapproved, the polling firm found. 

Much of Whitmer's approval decline has occurred among independent voters, 39% of whom approved of her performance and 51% of whom disapproved, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

"Michigan elections are decided by independent voters and how she does with these independent voters moving forward will really dictate" her performance in the 2022  election, said Richard Czuba, a pollster with the Lansing-based Glengariff Group. 

The Whitmer campaign remains confident that it can beat back efforts from "outside special interests" and "whichever extremist candidate emerges from the chaotic and divisive primary" of the Republican Party, spokesman Mark Fisk said Monday.

"Michigan is a battleground state where elections are always competitive and hard fought," Fisk said in a statement. "Gov. Whitmer remains focused on supporting small businesses, getting people back to work and tackling rising costs for families so they can keep more of their hard-earned money." 

Whitmer’s performance decline coincides with a more pessimistic view among voters about how Michigan is doing. 

In February, 46% of those surveyed said the state was on the right track compared with 39% who said it was on the wrong track. Now, 47% said the state is on the wrong track compared with 39% on the right track. In a May survey, voters said Michigan was on the wrong track, 45%-40%.

Biden, a fellow Democrat who was once seen as a boost for Whitmer's reelection in Michigan, has seen his approval ratings fall more drastically. About 39% of voters approved of his performance and 53% disapproved, according to the poll. 

Among those contributing to the decline in approval are "leaning Democratic" voters whose approval decreased by 32% and independent voters whose approval dipped by 11%, Czuba said. 

"The Afghan situation and pullout, the confusion around the booster shots have certainly cost the Biden administration some credibility," said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Czuba and Baruah noted the polling was completed before Biden issued his vaccine mandate, which has been a source of concern for the chamber. 

"We think that is an overstep," Baruah said. "The federal government has not necessarily been the one to implement vaccine requirements.”

Voters' views about the direction of the country appear to be contributing to Biden's woes. Michigan voters said the nation was on the wrong track in October 2020 just before the November election. There was an improvement from February, when 37% said America was on the right track, while 41% said it was on the wrong track, according to the Glengariff Group.

But the numbers have plunged and so has Biden's job performance indicators.

In May, 48% said the nation was on the wrong track and 35% said it was on the right track. It worsened in the Aug. 31-Sept. 3 poll to 59% saying the nation is on the wrong track and 26% saying the nation is on the right track.

About 58% of voters believe the economy is on the wrong track and among unvaccinated voters the percentage increases to 84% who said the economy is on the wrong track. Nearly 86% of voters were worried about inflation, one of the few areas of widespread agreement to emerge among vaccinated and unvaccinated voters in the poll. 

Even with that concern, however, the effect of COVID-19 on voters' personal finances is negligible, according to those surveyed. 

About 45% of voters said the pandemic had no effect on their household finances and 38% said the damage was minor. The impact appears to be unequal depending on race: 33% of Black people reported major or catastrophic damage compared to 14% of White people. 

In the poll, 39% identified as Democrats, 37% as Republicans and 21% as independents. About 3% didn't answer. 


Whitmer's approval rating

An Aug. 31-Sept. 3 poll of 600 Michigan registered voters found the following about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's job performance:

48% Approve

46% Disapprove

6% Didn't answer

Note: The survey had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Source: Glengariff Group