AMHERST, Mass. – As Gov. Charlie Baker mulls running for a possible third term, approval for the Republican governor has eroded during the COVID pandemic, according to a new University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB poll released today.
Soaring high in August 2020 with a 78% approval rating, Baker now has 52% approving of the job he’s done in the State House, while those disapproving of his job have nearly doubled from 20% to 39%. Within his own party, he holds just a 38% approval rating, whereas 61% of Democrats and 43% of independents approve of his performance. Only 32% of Trump voters give Baker positive marks, compared to 62% of Biden voters. Baker also holds a higher approval rating among non-whites (55%) than among whites (51%).
“To no one’s surprise, Baker’s approval ratings have dipped and this is true across all demographic and political groups in the state,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst and director of the poll. “Controversies over the vaccine rollout, the return to in-person learning, and statewide lockdowns all did real damage to Baker’s status as America’s most popular governor. However, while he has come under fire for racial disparities in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths alongside similar racial gaps in vaccinations, a majority of people of color still approve of his job as governor and do so at a higher level than whites.”
“Given the tribulations they have endured from the pandemic – especially loss of jobs and remote schooling – young people appeared to have soured on Baker the most,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll. “He suffers a 32-point loss in his approval among 18-29 year-olds since August, and it now stands at only 29%.”
Looking ahead to the 2022 general election for governor, the new poll finds Baker would be in a tight race with state Attorney General Maura Healey, should she choose to run and secure the Democratic Party’s nomination.
“It may be too early to tell, but if Attorney General Maura Healey decides to challenge Governor Baker, he may have a real fight on his hands as Healey only trails Baker by three percentage points in our hypothetical matchup,” Nteta says. The poll found Baker leads Healey 31-28, while a full one-third (34%) of the poll’s registered voters are unsure how they would vote in the potential contest.
The poll finds Baker holds a 10-point edge over former Rep. Joe Kennedy III, 37-27, in that potential head-to-head race, and a 19-point lead (31-12) over the only officially declared Democratic candidate, former state Sen. Ben Downing. More than half (51%) of the poll’s registered voters are unsure how they would vote in a potential Baker-Downing election, however. Baker also holds significant early leads in potential matchups with State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (30-16, 45% unsure) and Harvard political science professor Danielle Allen (30-14, 48% unsure), both of whom are not widely known throughout the state.
“While Republicans may profess their dismay and disappointment at Baker’s tenure as governor, in hypothetical matchups with Healey and Kennedy, a majority say that they will vote for Baker,” Nteta says. “The criticism sent Baker’s way from the state GOP for his handling of the distribution of the vaccine, his distancing from President Trump and the national Republican Party, and his lockdown policies may have little effect on Baker in the fall of 2022.”
Ratings for President Biden, the state Legislature and Congress
President Joe Biden’s approval rating in the new poll doubles up that of his predecessor. Whereas only 31% of respondents in the October UMass Amherst Poll approved of Donald Trump’s performance, President Biden currently holds a 62% approval rating among Bay State residents. Republicans, however, have not only failed to warm to the new president, as only 17% of the party’s respondents approve of Biden’s job, but the majority of Trump voters fail to view him as the nation’s legitimate democratically elected president.
“It is extraordinary how few Trump voters in Massachusetts view Biden as the legitimate president – just 22%! As many as 59% said Biden was not the legitimate president and 19% said they did not know if he was or not,” says La Raja. “These are extremely worrisome figures in a democracy where, despite our dislike of the other party leaders, we normally accept their legitimacy to govern after an election.”
Meanwhile, approval for the job being done by the U.S. Congress increased by 50% since October. In the fall, just 22% of the UMass Poll’s respondents approved of the job done by the nation’s legislative branch, with 72% disapproving, numbers which echoed August’s poll (23-67). In today’s poll, however, 33% now approve of the job that congress is doing and 57% disapprove.
“Massachusetts residents seem excited about the prospects of a Biden Administration and a Democrat-controlled Congress, giving the president and Congress noticeably higher marks in March than in August or October of last year,” says Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the poll.
Back home in the Bay State, a bare majority (51%) of the poll’s respondents continue to approve of the job being done by the state Legislature. While down slightly from October’s poll (60% approval), the percentage disapproving of the work being done on Beacon Hill remained steady at 31%.
“Our poll indicates a healthy sign for representative democracy in Massachusetts,” La Raja says. “A majority of voters approve of the job of the state Legislature. These approval ratings are good during an era when legislatures across the nation are held in very low esteem.”
State of the Economy and the Nation
The new poll found a slight increase in optimism in the state of the national economy, as 24% of the current poll’s respondents say the state of the national economy is poor, down from 38% in October. Those viewing the national economy as fair or better now stands at 75%, up from 61% last fall. Similarly, significantly fewer people believe the country is generally on the “wrong track” – 51% disapprove of the current direction of the country, down from 71% in October and 75% in August. Those saying the U.S. is on the right track now stands at 31%, up from 24% in October and more than double the 15% who felt that way in August.
“Massachusetts residents are expressing somewhat rosier views of national circumstances with a noticeably smaller share of residents viewing the national economy as poor, and fewer viewing the country as on the wrong track,” Rhodes says. “In a Democratic state, the election of Joe Biden and the distribution of the COVID vaccine is likely encouraging more Massachusetts residents to have a more positive assessment of national affairs.”
Potential New Policy Initiatives
The new poll also surveyed respondents’ views on three policy ideas that have recently made news. Nearly two-thirds (65%) support a 4% surtax in the state’s income tax for individuals with incomes over $1 million, while only 19% oppose the idea, and a slight majority (53%) support plans that would cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers. Thirty-four percent of the poll’s respondents oppose the federal student loan forgiveness plan.
A slight plurality (41%) of the poll’s respondents also support ending the use of Native American names, symbols and images that serve as high school, college and university mascots and team names in Massachusetts. Thirty-seven percent of the poll’s respondents oppose the idea, with 22% unsure or non-committal.
“The controversies over using Native American names and symbols for schools or teams is not going away,” says La Raja. “The public is starkly divided on whether they should be used or not, with roughly 40% either in support or opposed.”
This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 800 residents of Massachusetts was conducted March 5-9 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 846 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 800 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education. The frame was constructed by stratified sampling from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) subset to Massachusetts residents one-year sample with selection within strata by weighted sampling with replacements, using the person weights on the public use file.
The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity and years of education. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles. The weights were then post-stratified on 2016 Presidential vote choice, 2020 Presidential vote choice and a four-way stratification of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories), and education (4-categories), to produce the final weight.
The margin of error within this poll is 4.6%.
Topline results and crosstabs for the poll can be found at www.umass.edu/poll