Why Are Cuomo, DeSantis, Abbott and Newsom Approval Ratings so Similar?

Pollsters say the run-of-the-mill approval numbers are a result of voters’ general satisfaction with how each of their respective governors has handled the coronavirus in recent months

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could not have two more radically-different approaches when it comes to managing the coronavirus crisis.  The same could be said for California Governor Gavin Newsom and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Yet, the leaders of America’s most-populous states - all recently criticized in the national press following different controversies - have one surprising thing in common: middling approval ratings that are neither near the top nor the bottom of the nation’s 50 state leaders.

Pollsters say the run-of-the-mill approval numbers are a result of voters’ general satisfaction with how each of their respective governors has handled the coronavirus in recent months. Despite some national criticisms, recent surveys indicate approximately half of Californians, Texans, and Floridians are satisfied with their governor’s handling of the pandemic. And 60% of New Yorkers approve of their governor’s COVID response.

“We need to give voters more credit than some talking heads and pundits tend to do,” said Steven Greenberg, pollster for Siena College.  “Voters see (governors) a lot closer and know a lot more about what they're doing, and therefore can nuance their views (better).”

Polarization - particularly in presidential battleground states - also seems to limit the swing of approval numbers these days. Although most governors saw a double-digit boost in approvals during the early months of the pandemic, most politicians have seen those gains come back to Earth as the partisan divide over COVID deepens.

Bigger swings have been seen in states without deeply-sowed partisan lines, as the most popular governors in the country during the pandemic were moderate Republicans leading traditionally-blue states, according to data intelligence company Morning Consult.  

That includes Vermont’s Phil Scott, Maryland’s Larry Hogan, and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker.

The Covid States Project, a collaboration between researchers at Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern, and Northwestern universities found Democrats were “more likely to approve of, and be more willing to positively reassess, Republican leaders than Republicans are to approve of, or positively reassess, Democratic leaders.”

The collaboration reported the lowest voter satisfaction with their governors’ handling of the coronavirus in traditionally-red states led by Republican governors.   

Governors with less than 35% support of their pandemic management include Arizona’s Doug Ducey, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, Idaho’s Brad Little, Missouri’s Mike Parson, and Mississippi’s Tate Reeves - all of whom, except Parson, govern states with coronavirus death rates worse than the national average. 

However, when it comes to governors in “purple” states, as well as Democratic governors in Democratic states, most of the approval numbers are very middle-of-the-road.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Cuomo’s approval ratings have fallen to just 42% according to an April survey from Siena College, but only 37% of New York registered voters wanted the governor to resign or be removed from office, compared to 51% who said they’d like Cuomo to continue serving through 2022.

Even though his strong marks on the pandemic helped lift him to a 77% approval last spring - a surge that lasted well into the fall - recent allegations of sexual misconduct, which Cuomo denies, and an alleged cover-up over nursing home mortality numbers have now erased those 2020 gains.

Only 33% of New Yorkers told Siena they’d like Cuomo to win re-election, compared to 57% who said they’d like to see a new governor.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Governor DeSantis’ approval ratings, between 45% and 60%, according to three recent polls, appear to be rebounding as the state’s COVID numbers drop.  

Although the Covid States Project found his handling of the pandemic widely unpopular among Floridians this winter, an April survey by conservative pollsters  Cygnal suggested the governor’s approval ratings had climbed to 60%.  A March survey by nonpartisan St. Pete Polls had the governor at 45%, while a February survey by Mason Dixon polling pegged DeSantis’ approvals at 53%.

DeSantis, considered a possible frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has closely aligned his pandemic response to that of former President Donald Trump, and has enjoyed strong support from Florida Republicans throughout the pandemic.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Governor Newsom’ approval ratings remain strong, even as a petition effort to force a recall election proceeds forward.  A March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 54% of Californians approve of the job Newsom is doing as governor, compared to just 36% who disapprove.

Newsom, who endured criticism over both his strict pandemic restrictions and his personal failure to comply with them, appears likely destined for a fall recall election, but in Democratic-heavy California, there doesn’t seem nearly enough dissatisfaction at this time to recall him.

His approval ratings in March 2021 were higher than they were before the pandemic.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Governor Abbott’s approval ratings remain healthy, between 45 and 50 percent, according to a March poll from the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin and an April poll from UT-Tyler and the Dallas Morning News.  

His approvals remain higher than his disapproval numbers, despite recent frustrations from some Texans over the state’s recent power grid failures and the governor’s first-in-the-nation rollback of pandemic restrictions related to mask mandates and social distancing.  

While Abbott’s approval numbers remain above-water, his disapproval numbers have grown, to 43% in the UT-Austin survey and 46% in the UT-Tyler survey.

“Republican governors, with just a few exceptions, acquiesced to that national argument (on pandemic restrictions), and it affected their overall evaluations with Democrats,” said James Henson, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin, and director of the Texas Politics Project.

But even during Texas’ worst pandemic months, the number of voters who disapproved of Abbott’s performance never outnumbered those that approved.

“Partisans (tend to) support their political leaders,” Henson said.  “You have to have some real fundamental political shift for those numbers to change in any big way.”

Noah Pransky is NBCLX’s National Political Editor. He covers Washington and state politics for NBCLX, and his investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont, and Cronkite awards. You can contact him confidentially at noah.pransky@nbcuni.com or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.