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MSU poll finds Westerners give governors and local governments high marks for handling of coronavirus crisis


Last updated 5/7/2020 at 9:49am

By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — A recent online poll of residents in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Utah found that a clear majority of respondents gave their governors and state local government high marks for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, with thoughts about the federal government’s response splitting along party lines.

David C.W. Parker, professor of political science at Montana State University, said the poll conducted in April confirmed a long-held finding by political scientists that there is a “rally ‘round the flag” effect during times of crisis. And the current coronavirus crisis did not differ.

“In every state, a large majority of people approve of the job their governor is doing to manage the coronavirus crisis,” Parker said.

He added that part of the reason governors garnered high marks is that they dominated press coverage during the period of the poll, which was between April 10 and April 27.

Roughly 65-80 percent of respondents in all four states said they believe state and local governments have had the appropriate level of involvement in developing policies in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Respondents also give overwhelmingly high marks to local governments, schools, scientists and their fellow citizens for their response to the coronavirus crisis,” Parker said.

About 30 percent of respondents across three states — and 45 percent in Colorado — believe the federal government has not done enough in responding to the crisis.

“This breaks predictably along party lines, with Republicans generally believing the federal government has done about the right amount while Democrats are more likely to say not enough has been done,” Parker said.

Independents generally fall somewhere in the middle, he said, except in Colorado where a majority indicate that the federal government has not done enough in its coronavirus response.

The questionnaire answered by 2,220 respondents was part of a poll conducted by political scientists at MSU and the University of Denver and administered online to residents in Montana, Colorado, North Dakota and Utah. The survey was weighted to reflect demographics in the respective states. The first section of the poll focused on public health and economic fallout related to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting restrictions and may be found here. This second section focused on political opinions during the time period.

Although more people approve than disapprove of the job their U.S. senators are doing to manage the crisis, with the exception of respondents in Colorado, 28-40 percent of respondents report that they don’t know if they approve or disapprove of their senators’ actions.

“We suspect this is largely due to the volume of media attention concentrated on state and local officials,” Parker said. “Relatively little coverage has been devoted to how specific senators or members of Congress are addressing the pandemic.”

That dynamic may have an impact in the upcoming elections. Montana and Colorado feature U.S. Senate races in which a governor and a former governor are running against incumbent senators. In Montana, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is running against freshman Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican. Despite having only announced his candidacy in early March, the poll finds Bullock with support from 47 percent of respondents, Daines with 40 percent and 7 percent of likely voters still undecided.

“This is a statistical tie since this lead is within the sample’s margin of error,” Parker said.

In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper has a substantial lead of 17 points that is outside the sample’s margin of error, Parker said. However, roughly 17 percent of likely Colorado voters remain undecided.

“Depending on which way they ultimately swing, Hickenlooper’s lead could shrink,” Parker said, noting many undecided voters in Colorado are Independents.

Parker said that in Montana, North Dakota and Utah, a majority of respondents approve of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis, although substantial minorities, or about 40 percent, express disapproval. In Colorado, only 34 percent of voters approve of the job President Trump is doing related to the coronavirus crisis.

The poll also asked respondents in Montana and Colorado whom they would support in November’s presidential election.

Parker said that in Montana, where Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in 2016, the election in 2020 appears to be considerably tightened. Forty-five percent of Montanans support Trump, while 40 percent of Montanans report they would vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump’s lead is within the sample’s margin of error. Another 10 percent indicate supporting some other candidate, with only 5 percent undecided.

In Colorado, Biden leads Trump by 18 points, 53 percent to 35 percent). Parker calls that a substantial lead well outside the poll’s margin of error. Only 8 percent of voters are undecided, with another 3 percent expressing a preference for another candidate.

While protests over stay-at-home restrictions have been widely reported over the last week, the poll found respondents support stay-at-home orders regardless of partisanship.

“However, some differences emerge when respondents are asked if people should be trusted to social distance on their own or if it is necessary for governments to issue orders because people cannot be trusted to voluntarily social distance themselves,” Parker said.

Results in this category varied by state. Respondents are evenly split in Utah and Montana. A majority in Colorado indicate that governments must issue orders, while a majority in North Dakota trust people to take responsibility to socially distance themselves.

“These splits may hint at key differences in the political cultures of the four states,” he said.

Majorities in every state agree that the Chinese government is responsible and should shoulder blame for the coronavirus crisis because they believe it withheld information about the pandemic. However, across every state Republicans and Independents are more likely to cast blame on China than are Democrats.

Respondents were also asked whether they agreed or disagreed that it was unfair to blame China because the crisis could have erupted in any country. Pluralities in Montana and North Dakota disagree that it is unfair to blame China, while the split is roughly even in Colorado and Utah.

The poll was administered by Parker and Eric Raile, director of MSU’s HELPS Lab, and Elizabeth Shanahan, all professors in the Department of Political Science in the MSU College of Letters and Science, and Pavielle Haines of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. In all, 503 Coloradans responded to the survey from April 10-19; 738 Montanans responded to the survey from April 10-27; 481 North Dakotans responded to the survey from April 10-25 and 498 Utahns responded from April 10-15.

Parker said the four states surveyed were selected for their geographical proximity yet cultural and political variances. The states had different restrictions and degrees of stay-at-home orders, including no orders in North Dakota. He said the political scientists thought that with many respondents at home and on computers, often consuming a great deal of news-related content, the poll could capture a snapshot of a distinct period of regional history. Parker said the pollsters sought to build upon successful polls that the MSU team had conducted both pre and post the 2018 elections.

The poll was funded by the Office of the Vice President of Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education at MSU, the Department of Political Science at MSU, and the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. Data and more information may be found at http://helpslab.montana.edu/.


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