Photos courtesy the Office of the Governor and Gage Skidmore
Photos courtesy the Office of the Governor and Gage Skidmore

Lawsuits challenging Gov. Whitmer’s authority have surfaced during the pandemic, but new data is showing that a majority of Michiganders feel confident in her leadership.

MICHIGAN — New data suggests Michiganders are sticking with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over President Donald Trump on issues like police reforms and the pandemic.

“I love the Big G,” Oakland County septuagenarian Bernadine Williams told The ’Gander in June. “I am so proud of her, I don’t know what to do. That woman from Michigan is on point.”

The data, published in Lake Effect, shows Gov. Whitmer with an overall 53% approval rating from Michiganders, and majorities oppose both attempts at ballot initiatives to limit her authority to handle crises and attempts to recall her. Trump, who threatened to withhold federal funds to Michigan in May over mail-in voting, only draws 44% approval from Michiganders. 

Specifically on managing the coronavirus, Gov. Whitmer has a twenty-point lead over Trump, with 37% supporting him, but 57% supporting her. While Whitmer has taken swift and decisive action that quickly curbed the worst viral spread Michigan saw, she has characterized Trump as creating a leadership vacuum.

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“One of the strongest things that we’ve seen has been support for Gov. Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 as well as her overall job performance in general,” said Sam Inglot, deputy director of Progress Michigan. “People support what Gov. Whitmer is doing, are supportive of the job she’s done, and oppose any efforts to try and undermine her executive powers to deal with this global pandemic.”

Progress Michigan, alongside Public Policy Polling, has been tracking Michiganders’ attitudes in Lake Effect throughout the pandemic. 

Inglot told The ’Gander that Michiganders are supportive of measures to try and slow the spread of the virus. Whitmer has consistently taken a “dial” approach to pandemic protections, adjusting them as necessary for any given moment, as exemplified during the current resurgence of the virus in Michigan. 

Michiganders are worried about the pandemic, Inglot said, and it’s illustrated in the polling data. Michiganders expressed worry about the coronavirus impacting personal finances and safety of in-person voting and supported restoring stay-at-home orders and mandatory mask use.

Trump, by contrast, said when he visited Ypsilanti in May that he opposed any stay-at-home order being issued again, regardless of the state of the pandemic. He also refused to wear a mask where members of the press might see him. That’s out-of-step with the majority of Michganders’ concerns, and it shows up in the polling data. 

Gov. Whitmer is also with most Michiganders on police reform, according to the polling data. Suggesting policies like banning chokeholds and limiting no-knock warrants tracks with more than 60% of Michiganders who support police revising policies on use of force. Additionally, 49% want to see the pandemic and protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police inspire lasting changes, while only 41% wish to return to the world as it was before 2020. 

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“There’s definitely strong support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as some of the reforms behind the ‘defund the police’ movement,” Inglot said. “While the slogan itself might not necessarily be popular, when you actually dig into the numbers you see the intent behind that slogan and the reforms of prioritizing police spending into other critical areas of community services is actually a popular concept.”

As Lake Effect’s data shows, despite 62% of Michiganders opposing the statement “defund the police,” when the policy was explained without using the phrase, only 38% opposed it. 

Gov. Whitmer was deeply critical of Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the George Floyd protests, and she marched with protesters herself in early June. 

Being in step with Michiganders on the issues is only part of Gov. Whitmer’s appeal, though. 

“Gretchen just makes people feel comfortable,” Tashawna Gill, political director for Gov. Whitmer’s campaign, told The ’Gander. “She’s held all these titles. She was a state rep, senator, right now she’s governor. But when she is there with them [her constituents], guess what she is: She’s a woman first. She’s a mom. She’s a daughter. She’s all these things that they are. And she lets them know that.”

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Inglot was cautious, though, pointing out that the general election is still months away and horserace polling in July might not sway the outcome in November. Especially with the way Trump outperformed polls in 2016. This concern was shared by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Detroit) who warned Michiganders not to be complacent with Trump’s low favorability. 

“We like to keep our finger on the pulse of where the polls are at,” said Inglot. “But at the end of the day, everything comes down to what happens in August and November.”