To better understand why Donald Trump is trailing Joseph Biden more in some states than others, we decided to look at how people in six swing states evaluated in May his performance during the coronavirus crisis in comparison to the governor of their respective state. These are our findings.
In six swing states—all of them won by Trump in 2016—more respondents disapproved of his handling of the coronavirus crisis than the proportion who approved of his handling. Across the six states, his approval rating regarding his handling of the crisis hovered between 35% and 41%, whereas his disapproval rating ranged between 41% and 51%. His handling of the crisis was most popular in Florida and North Carolina, and least popular in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Among respondents who voted for Trump in 2016, his approval rating over the handling of the coronavirus crisis was generally high across all six states, ranging between 68% in Wisconsin and 75% in Florida. However, among his 2016 voters, Trump’s disapproval rating over the coronavirus crisis was substantially higher in Michigan (17%) than in other swing states such as Arizona (10%). This higher disapproval rate suggests that Michigan could be a more challenging state for Trump’s re-election campaign. Across all six swing states, between 12% and 16% of respondents who voted for Trump said they neither approve nor disapprove of the President’s handling of the crisis.
On the other hand, among respondents who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the approval ratings for Trump over his handling of the crisis were unsurprisingly low, ranging between 9% in Wisconsin and 15% in Florida. It is worth remarking that, although still very high, Trump’s disapproval rating among 2016 Clinton voters in Florida (71%) is significantly lower than in other swing states such as Wisconsin (84%). Likewise, out of all six swing states, his highest approval rating over the coronavirus crisis was in Florida (41%), suggesting that the state could pose a greater challenge for Democratic candidate Joe Biden than other swing states.
In our polls, we also asked respondents in each of the six swing states whether they approved of their respective governor’s handling of the coronavirus crisis within the state. In four of them, the governors’ approval ratings were fairly similar to each other, ranging between 54% and 58%. However, there were two noteworthy figures: North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, had an exceptionally high approval rating over his handling of the coronavirus crisis (63%), whereas Arizona’s Doug Ducey, a Republican, had the lowest coronavirus-handling approval rating of all six swing states (45%).
All six swing state governors had higher approval ratings in their states for their handling of the coronavirus crisis (45% to 63%) than President Trump’s approval rating in each of the six states over his handling of the coronavirus crisis (36% 41%).
For the most part, the governors of the six swing states enjoyed high approval ratings over their handling of the crisis among respondents who had voted for the presidential candidate from their party in 2016 (i.e. Democratic governors had high approval ratings among those who voted for Clinton in 2016). For example, in Wisconsin and Michigan, the states’ Democratic governors enjoyed approval ratings of 85% and 83% respectively among 2016 Clinton voters, whereas in Florida the Republican Governor has a 73% approval rating among 2016 Trump voters.
However, it is interesting to note that the four Democratic governors had higher approval ratings among respondents who voted for Clinton in 2016 than the two Republican governors did among respondents who voted for Trump. For example, Arizona’s Republican Governor’s 59% approval rating among 2016 Trump voters is significantly lower than the Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor’s approval rating of 85% among 2016 Clinton voters.
Indeed, Arizona’s Governor Ducey appears to have somewhat fallen out of favour among 2016 Trump voters, with only 59% of them approving his handling of the coronavirus crisis in the state compared to the 72% who approve Trump’s handling at the federal level. This lower support is not the case in Florida—the other state with a Republican governor—where Governor DeSantis’ approval rating among 2016 Trump voters is 73%, which is very similar to Trump’s own 75% among his 2016 voters in the state. However, Arizona’s Governor Ducey enjoys a slightly higher approval rating among 2016 Clinton voters (33%) than Florida’s Governor DeSantis (28%).
Another interesting case among the six governors is that of North Carolina’s Roy Cooper, a Democrat who enjoys the highest approval rating for his handling of the crisis among the six governors. Most interesting, however, is his high approval rating among 2016 Trump voters (53%). Even though this figure is not as high as Trump’s own approval rating in North Carolina within his 2016 voters (74%), it approximates it far more closely than for the other three Democratic governors. For example, only 32% of 2016 Trump voters approve of Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, which is an entire twenty-one percentage points lower than Roy Cooper’s approval rating among 2016 Trump voters in North Carolina.
In Michigan’s case, it is likely explained by the escalation of rhetoric that surrounded armed protests at Michigan’s state capitol earlier in May, where protesters demanded that Governor Whitmer lift the lockdown. In the case of North Carolina, it remains to be seen whether Governor Cooper’s approval rating among 2016 Trump voters will fall following his recent confrontation with the President over whether the 2020 Republican National Convention can take place in Charlotte (the confrontation took place after we conducted our poll).
How Will the Swing States Vote?
Out these six swing states, Trump is trailing Biden the most in the three states with the lowest approval ratings for the President’s handling of the coronavirus crisis: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The three states have Democratic governors with approval ratings over their handling of coronavirus that are at least fifteen points higher than the President’s own ratings in the three states. All three Democratic governors have won the approval of roughly a third of Trump’s 2016 voters over their handling of the crisis at the state level, and they are extremely popular among 2016 Clinton voters, winning the approval of between 77% and 85% over their handling of the crisis.
On the other hand, Biden has the narrowest lead in Florida, where Trump enjoys his highest approval rating over the coronavirus crisis, and where Republican Governor DeSantis also enjoys a 58% approval rating. Even though an equal number of Floridian participants approve and disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis (41% and 42%, respectively), his association with Governor DeSantis might prove helpful in helping him close the gap with Biden even further.
Conversely, although Trump also enjoys a relatively high approval rating in North Carolina (40% approve his handling of coronavirus, versus 41% who do not), the state’s popular Governor Cooper is a Democrat and he enjoys broad support in the state over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, enjoying an approval rating of 63%, including 53% of 2016 Trump voters. It remains to be seen whether Cooper’s recent confrontation with President Trump over hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte will cost the governor the approval of some in his state, or whether his successful handling of the crisis might mean that many North Carolinians will side with him over Trump.Altogether, as demonstrated here in the discrepancies between Donald Trump’s coronavirus approval ratings and those of these swing state governors, the localized nature of the coronavirus pandemic, whereby State Governments have played a larger role than usual, will be an important dynamic to take note of in the 2020 election cycle.