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Kemp’s numbers lag, even as the coronovirus curve flattens

Tom Baxter

By Tom Baxter

The curve has begun to flatten, the public responded enthusiastically to his lifting of stay-at-home orders — judging by the crowds who came outside, at least — and everybody digs Sign Language Santa. So far, however, none of that has given Gov. Brian Kemp the big bump other governors have enjoyed during the pandemic.

Last week, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll had Kemp with a 39 percent approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, the only governor from the 12 largest states to get less than 50 percent. He’s also the only governor who polled worse than President Trump, whose approval rating for his handling of the crisis at the national level was 43 percent.

It’s important to put this in context. Last November, Kemp’s overall favorability was in the mid-50s in a couple of polls, a large leap over the beginning of last year, when his favorable rating had been a miserable 37 percent. These were different pollsters asking slightly different questions, but there’s a range here, from the high 30s to the mid 50s, that Kemp always seems to poll in.

As late as last month, Kemp’s coronavirus approval numbers were still in the high range of his overall numbers last year. In a nationwide poll of the states conducted by Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers universities last month, Kemp’s approval was 53 percent.

What should concern Kemp most about these two recent polls is their direction. The university poll, the one which had him at a number close to last year’s overall approval, was conducted April 17 to 26. The Washington Post-Ipsos poll, in which he tumbles back down in the 30s, began the next day, April 27, and ran to May 4. That could be read as a sharp negative reaction to Kemp’s lifting of his stay-at-home order on May 1.

Kemp’s approval rating stands in great contrast to the nation’s other governors. The highest overall approval any of the governors had in that nationwide poll last November was 69 percent. In the Post-Ipsos poll of approval for the way they handled the outbreak, only three of the 12 governors, in Texas, Florida and Georgia, got less than that number. Republican Mike DeWine of Ohio led the field with a stratospheric 86 percent, trailed by New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo with 81 percent.

When you overlay his numbers in these polls with the trend line of reported coronavirus cases in Georgia, you also see that Kemp’s approval remained in his high range while the infection rate was rising steadily, and dropped when it began to flatten. That’s one of the notable effects of this pandemic: the political reaction trails behind the spread of the disease.

A negative national media reaction to Kemp’s early lifting of the state’s lockdown probably has a lot to do with his particularly bad showing in the Post-Ipsos poll, but there are other factors as well. Depending on what metric you use, Georgia has had from the highest to the fourth highest increase in unemployment. Unlike states like Hawaii where one portion of the economy (tourism) accounts for the high ranking, the pain in Georgia is more widespread, across a broad range of mostly small businesses.

None of that is the governor’s fault. It obviously played heavily in his decision to be the first governor in the country to lift his stay-at-home order. But voters who’ve lost their jobs are not particularly disposed to like anyone in charge.

This has also become a state with a very close, sharp division between the two parties, and that’s reflected in the polling on the current crisis. In other states we’ve seen a strong sentiment for a unified, bipartisan approach to dealing with the pandemic, and that has resulted in monster numbers for their governors.

Here, not so much.

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Tom Baxter
Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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