Jane Castor gets 78% approval rating in pandemic, outdoing DeSantis, Trump, new poll shows

The poll of 3,244 registered Florida voters taken last week found the decision by both DeSantis and Trump to refrain from imposing strict sanctions on public gatherings until last week may have cost them politically, the poll shows.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks during a news conference about the recent coronavirus pandemic Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks during a news conference about the recent coronavirus pandemic Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Tampa. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published April 6, 2020|Updated April 6, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Although Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken his cues in handling the state’s response to the corornavirus directly from the president, a narrow majority of Florida voters approve of the job he is doing, while most disapprove of the way President Donald Trump is handling the crisis. That’s according to a new poll by the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab.

The poll of 3,244 registered Florida voters taken last week found the decision by both DeSantis and Trump to refrain from imposing strict sanctions on public gatherings until last week — in order to keep businesses operating — may have cost them politically, the poll shows.

Meanwhile, of the cities surveyed, Jane Castor, the mayor of Tampa and a Democrat, had the largest approval rating for her handling of the pandemic with a 78% approval rate among Tampa voters, and only 8% disapproving, the survey found. Castor has been a vocal critic of the federal government, telling Slate she believed it was “woefully underprepared,” as her city sought testing kits but has been unable to get enough to meet the need.

Pollsters found that 57% of respondents believed the state has not gone far enough to contain the spread of the virus, while 55% said the federal government has not gone far enough. Only 43% were critical of their local governments for failing to respond.

The poll, administered by online survey, was conducted Tuesday, March 31 through Saturday, April 4. Only 45% strongly or somewhat approve of the job Trump is doing to address the pandemic, with 53% disapproving. By contrast, a narrow majority, 51%, approve of the job DeSantis is doing while 46% disapprove.

DeSantis’ decision to defer to mayors in the state’s hardest hit cities, allowing them to impose more aggressive limitations on social distancing, such as stay-home orders, has resulted in them being perceived as more responsive leaders in the crisis, the survey found.

“Relative to Trump and DeSantis’ support, mayors and local government have filled the leadership void and been rewarded with high levels of support,” said Michael Binder, director of the university’s Public Opinion Research Lab.

In Jacksonville, voters gave Republican Mayor Lenny Curry a 70% approval rating, while 24% disapproved. Although he echoed DeSantis’ talking points while resisting a stay-home order, he vigorously encouraged social distancing, conducting virtual press conferences, sharing daily prayers on social media and initiating a campaign to have people call a friend at 7 every evening.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, had 68% approval and 15% disapproval among Miami voters. He tested positive for COVID-19 and self-isolated, later agreeing to donate his plasma for an experimetal anti-body treatment. He, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez imposed a stay-home order a week before the governor’s statewide order.

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And Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, received 61% approval and 19% disapproval among voters in his city. Dyer also acted faster than DeSantis, imposing a citywide stay-home order six days before DeSantis, while urging the governor to impose more aggressive sanctions on public movement.

But the public official with the highest approval rating of all was Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s top health advisor, with 85% approval and a mere 6% disapproval among registered Florida voters. Vice President Mike Pence had an approval rating of 48%, with 44% disapproving. Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott had 38% and 37% approval, respectively, with Rubio at 35% disapproval and Scott at 39% disapproval.

The approval ratings are influenced by what pollsters found is a sense of overwhelming fear and anxiety by Floridians who feel vulnerable to contracting the virus.

While only 17% of respondents claim to know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the fear of contracting it is nearly universal. The survey found a stunning 79% of the public is afraid of contracting COVID-19 and 67% of respondents consider themselves higher risk of contracting the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

A majority of Floridians, 72% of respondents, indicated feeling very or somewhat anxious over the past week, with 51% responding they have been anxious more often than usual.

Pollsters also found that while 93% more people are worried about the public health effects of the pandemic, a smaller percentage — 84% — are very or somewhat concerned about the economic impacts.

“Given the massive disruption of our daily lives and serious nature of the pandemic, it is no wonder to see high levels of concern about COVID-19,” Binder said.

Pollsters also asked if the election were held today, who voters would support for president. Biden outperforms Trump 46% to 40%, the survey found — but Binder cautions that the survey includes only registered voters, not likely voters and “the campaign season has screeched to a grinding halt and people are rightly less focused on politics.”

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