Despite weeks of lockdown isolation and more than 175,000 lost jobs, Granite Staters overwhelmingly support Gov. Chris Sununu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“Seven in eight New Hampshire residents (87 percent) approve of Governor Sununu’s handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, while just 11 percent disapprove,” according to the latest Granite State Panel survey, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Overall approval of Sununu’s handling of the COVID-19 situation remains considerably higher than in March (73 percent).”
Sununu’s support among Republicans — an astonishing 91 percent — still isn’t as impressive as his 89 percent approval from Democrats.
Sununu’s support lags (comparatively) at a mere 75 percent among independents. “Approval among Republicans and Democrats is largely unchanged since April but approval among Independents has declined by eighteen percentage points since then,” according to the Survey Center’s release.
“The UNH numbers for Governor Sununu are phenomenal and reflect broad and deep bipartisan support for his leadership during this crisis,” veteran NHGOP strategist Jim Merrill told NHJournal. “He is our Bill Belichick, and with these numbers, New Hampshire is saying in a loud voice right now ‘In Chris We Trust.'”
However, support for Sununu’s stay-at-home order policy isn’t as robust as the governor himself. Backing for the lockdown has declined significantly in the poll since April, from 69 percent strongly supporting to just 31 percent now. Meanwhile, “neither support nor oppose” has soared from 9 percent to 28 percent.
This downward trend could continue as the consequences of Sununu’s stay-at-home order continue to hit home. For example, the poll came out the same day New Hampshire Employment Security (NHES) released new unemployment numbers showing a jobless rate of 16.3 percent — the highest they’ve ever reported.
“This is the highest unemployment rate in the history of the series (seasonally adjusted data are available back to 1976). This was an increase of 13.9 percentage points from the March rate, which decreased to 2.4 percent after revision. The April 2019 seasonally adjusted rate was 2.5 percent,” NHES reports.
“The support for Sununu is certainly impressive, especially his support among Democrats,” says Dr. Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “But the partisanship does show up when you look at specifics regarding the economic reopening of the state.”
Smith points to the lack of support among Democrats for reopening many of the businesses and facilities already allowed to operate.
Fewer than half of Granite State Democrats believe even outdoor dining should be allowed at restaurants, while independents and Republicans overwhelmingly support it. And just 24 percent of the state Democrats believe retail stores should be allowed back in business.
“The partisan divide over businesses reopening is a symptom of a longer-term problem,” Smith says. “Everything’s become political.”
As for the November election, Smith says both Democratic challengers, State Sen. Dan Feltes and Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, are “in a weak spot.”
“First, people aren’t really engaged in politics at the moment. And when they are, Trump sucks all the air out of the room. And based on the polls, Sununu’s support among Democrats is a problem for his challengers. The partisanship Democrats need to line up against Sununu hasn’t happened yet,” Smith said.