During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has provided emergency economic stimulus packages and funded vaccine research and development programs. Meanwhile, state governments have borne the responsibility of slowing the spread of the virus, while trying to minimize the economic fallout.
Striking an optimal balance between public health and economic considerations during the pandemic has proven to be a politically fraught task — and one that has often eluded broad consensus. Public opinion polls show that nearly all state governors have paid a political price for their handling of the coronavirus — though some have navigated the crisis more adroitly than others.
Using the Nov. 2, 2020 report “The State of the Nation: A 50-State COVID-19 Survey,” a joint survey from Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University, and Northwestern University, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least popular governors in America. Governors are ranked based on the share of residents who either approve or strongly approve of their handling the pandemic. All polling data was collected between Oct. 2 and Oct. 25, 2020.
Governor approval ratings vary by state — from as high as 80% to as low as 26%. With only a few exceptions, most governors are less popular now than they were in the early days of the pandemic. Governor approval ratings fell by an average of 16 points between late April and October. In several states, public opinion has dropped by 20 or more points. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, is the only governor more popular now than at the beginning of the pandemic.
Though there are several exceptions, the states where governors have the highest approval ratings tend to be those with lower than average per capita COVID-19 infection rates. Though unemployment rates tend to be slightly lower in states where COVID-19 has infected a larger share of the population, governor approval ratings in these areas still tend to be low. Here is a look at the states where COVID-19 is growing the fastest.
Since these polls were taken, there have been several gubernatorial elections and two governors on our list are no longer serving. Former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, facing a term limit, left office on Jan. 4, 2021. Additionally, former Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert did not seek reelection in 2020 and also left office on Jan. 4 2021.